Read Friday's Child Online

Authors: Kylie Brant

Friday's Child

“You will not pay me for helping your daughter. I…”

The rest of her words were muffled by Michael's fingers. “You didn't let me finish, Kate.”

Shock held her immobile at the feel of those fingers, large, yet curiously gentle, pressed against her mouth. When he moved them, his fingers left a lingering warmth in their wake.

“Will you have dinner with me?”

Kate blinked at him, trying to still the foolish leap of her heart that his words had elicited. She shook her head. It had been surprisingly difficult to work with him around. But now that she was finished, there was little reason for the two of them to see each other.

Sternly Kate told herself it was for the best. What could the most mind-numbingly, knee-shakingly sexy man she'd ever had the occasion to meet want with her?

She was almost afraid to think about it….

FRIDAY'S CHILD
K
YLIE
B
RANT

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Bringing Benjy Home
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Friday's Child
#862

KYLIE BRANT

married her high school sweetheart sixteen years ago, and they are raising their five children in Iowa. She spends her days teaching learning-disabled students, and many nights find her attending her sons' sporting events.

Always an avid reader, Kylie enjoys stories of love, mystery and suspense—and insists on happy endings! When her youngest children, a set of twins, turned four, she decided to try her hand at writing. Now most weekends and all summer she can be found at her computer, spinning her own tales of romance and happily-ever-afters.

Kylie invites readers to write to her at P.O. Box 231, Charles City, IA 50616.

For Jim and Marge,
who have been more than in-laws

Chapter 1

“Y
ou need a wife, not a secretary.”

Michael Friday's eyes never left the computer screen in front of him. He'd been working on solving the glitch in this program for two days, and he wasn't in the mood for interruptions. At any rate, he'd grown used to the nagging and was immune to the disapproving tone.

“Applying for the job, Bernie?”

He heard a sudden huff as his secretary drew in an outraged breath, and this time he did look up. He never missed the opportunity to watch Bernie engage in a full-blown snit. Right now her stern face was turning bright pink, her hands were perched on ample hips, and her generous bosom was quivering.

“I can assure you, I wouldn't consider it a promotion.”

He nodded with mock seriousness. “Just as well. You'd be damn hard to replace. It would be pretty tough to find a secretary who actually knows how to use the intercom to buzz her boss before interrupting him.”

“It would be difficult to buzz you,
sir,
since you turned off your intercom. Again.”

“Some people might interpret that action,” he said in a politely instructing tone, “as indicating a desire for privacy.” With great deliberation he propped his long legs up on his highly polished walnut desk, crossing them at the ankles. The action could always be depended on to send his secretary into near apoplexy. The desk was the same highly polished walnut one his predecessor had used, and she regarded it with a reverence usually reserved for an altar.

The sight of his scuffed, size-thirteen running shoes on the sacred desk sent instant flags of color to her cheeks. Michael grinned. She'd never made any bones about her disapproval of his often casual attire, or about her disapproval of
him,
period. He'd gone to great lengths when he'd taken over the company three years ago to soothe employee fears. He'd kept on all workers interested in continuing, retired those employees of age with generous pensions and offered better benefits and flexible working hours to the others. The result had been instant devotion from his employees, with the notable exception of one. He couldn't buy her, he couldn't charm her, and it seemed he couldn't impress her. But she was entertaining.

“You missed another appointment yesterday afternoon,” she said through clenched teeth. It was plain to see that she considered his error a blot on her own record. “I don't know how I'm expected to keep track of your meetings when you don't bother to keep me informed of all of them. I was wrong earlier. You don't need a wife, you need a keeper.”

She turned and stomped back through the door connecting their two offices, but her voice drifted behind her. “After all, what woman in her right mind would shackle herself to the Beltway Raider?”

He winced at her use of the nickname that appeared with increasing regularity in the
Post.
“Shut the door on your way out,” he bellowed.

But the woman who appeared in his doorway midbellow was a far cry from Maxine Bernwood. This woman's face was a perfect oval, with a small, full mouth placed precisely above her rounded chin. Curly brown hair was piled on top of her head, accentuating the curved line of her jaw. And then
he saw her eyes, and thought deserted him completely. They were a pure shade of blue, the color of an Indian summer sky.

All his hormones went on red alert. With more speed than grace he dropped his feet to the floor and rose. He smiled disarmingly as he approached the woman, who was watching him with the wary fascination people usually reserved for rabid dogs. “Sorry. I didn't realize I had a visitor. Please come in,” he invited, holding out his hand to her. “I'm Michael Friday, and you're in luck. I happen to have some time free this afternoon, Miss…” His tone tapered off hopefully.

“Katherine Rose.” The woman supplied her name faintly as her hand was engulfed in his much larger one. He drew her inside his office and closed the door on his secretary, who was pointedly ignoring the fact that she'd failed to announce the woman's arrival.

“Please, sit down,” he said, indicating chairs grouped around a long table in the middle of the room.

She shifted the bag she was carrying and then, after a brief hesitation, chose a chair. He sank into the one next to hers and grinned engagingly. “I have to admit, I'm not much for surprises, but your visit is the first thing that's gone right in two days.”

“I see.”

He couldn't tell by what act of nature her hair stayed up in that gravity-defying hairdo. It wasn't a bun, it was too loose, but it was secured nonetheless. He decided that he would die happy if he could just once see that glorious hair spilling in a riot of curls down her narrow back. Her narrow,
naked
back, he amended. He'd always believed that if one was going to set a goal, one should aim high.

“Katherine,” he said, savoring the syllables. “Is that what your friends call you? Not Kathy, Katie?”

Surprise layered over the nerves mirrored in those incredible blue eyes. “No. That is…my friends call me Kate.”

“Kate.” He tasted the name, liked its flavor. “Why don't you tell me why you've come.” Then he glanced at the watch on his wrist. “Better yet, you can tell me over dinner.”

Her eyebrows rose. “It's barely four-thirty.”

“I'm a slow driver,” he said solemnly.

She gave him a considering look. “You don't know who I am, do you?”

He shook his head. “But I'd like to. Very much.”

“Katherine Rose,” she repeated, watching his face for a flicker of recognition. When none came, she added helpfully, “Chloe's teacher.”

“Chloe's teach—” His disbelief colored his voice.


You're
Miss Rose?” He shouldn't be so surprised. Chloe had never mentioned her teacher's age, not that it would have mattered. Anybody over the age of ten was old to his daughter. She had, however, in her usual descriptive fashion, told him many times that Miss Rose's eyes looked like they had pieces of sky in them.

“Yes,” Kate said crisply. “I am. After you missed our conference yesterday, I decided to take a chance on catching you here.”

“I missed our conference?” Michael got up and strode to his desk, flipping the page of his daily planner to yesterday's appointments. There, scrawled in his own handwriting, was the message, “Miss Rose 3:30.” The missed appointment Bernie had been referring to. His eyes slid shut in chagrin. Yesterday at three-thirty he'd been deeply embroiled in a strategy session for yet another takeover bid, this time for a small computer company that manufactured a progressive microchip he wanted. The meeting had lasted until well after midnight.

He returned to his chair. “Miss Rose, you have my sincerest, most embarrassed apologies. I've mastered the art of writing down messages but clearly need work on reading them later.”

“It's all right, Mr. Friday. Your absence wasn't totally unexpected.” Her voice held a note of cool reproof. “You've missed our last five scheduled conferences.”

He winced. The lady had him dead to rights and, for all her youth, made him feel as guilty as a mischievous boy in the principal's office. He held his hands up in surrender.
“Again, I plead guilty. But I did send my man, Trask, in my place to two of them. He takes care of my home, and of Chloe, while I'm away or working. And he faithfully repeated your messages about her progress in first grade.” Telling her how busy he'd been for the last several months would seem like a lame excuse, so he didn't bother.

He was facing the problem common to divorced parents—balancing a career with quality family time. His company, Security Systems and Software, was leading the competition in software designed to protect computer programs. He'd marketed a variety of products suitable for the private sector, and the profits he'd reaped had taken his company to multimillion-dollar status. He'd recently been awarded a highly competitive government contract. The project, dubbed FORAY, was a new design to protect NASA's most sensitive high-tech computer research files. If he'd had greater forewarning that Chloe would be coming to live with him, maybe he'd have been a bit more settled, both with the company and in the home he'd recently bought in Great Falls, Virginia. He sometimes felt like a juggler with too many balls in the air, and the missed appointments she referred to didn't fail to register a stab of guilt.

“Yes, I spoke with Mr. Trask,” Kate agreed. “But the school year is almost over. I've met with all my other students' parents at least three times by now. I thought it was necessary for the two of us to get together.”

He leaned forward, his hazel eyes intent. “You're absolutely right. About us getting together, I mean.”

She eyed him carefully. “To discuss Chloe.”

“Of course.”

Michael watched with amusement as she edged her chair a little away from his, even as she busied herself taking Chloe's portfolio out of her bag. Her posture was ramrod straight and she kept her gaze focused firmly on the folder in front of her. He didn't mind her show of nerves. There were plenty of other emotions he'd like to elicit from her of course, but nerves were a start. At least it proved she was aware of him.

She took out a packet of papers and passed a painting over
to him. “One of Chloe's favorite activities is art class. She's a very creative little girl.”

Michael studied the painting of a horse with a small figure, presumably Chloe, riding it. “Yeah, she is,” he said indulgently. He waved his hand to the line of paintings and drawings that hung from the front of his desk.

Kate looked at them and smiled. “I recognize her style.”

He felt an involuntary reaction in his loins. It was going to be damn hard to concentrate if the woman continued to smile like that. As a matter of fact, it was going to be damn hard to concentrate just sitting this close to her. He continued to listen, attending as much to her pleasantly husky voice as to her words. Interspersed with his interest in hearing how bright his little girl was, and how kind she was to others, was a parallel interest in the woman sitting beside him.

He wondered if she was as young as she looked. Surely not. Even a beginning teacher would have to be around twenty-two. And then he wondered if she'd scooped her hair up like that to make herself appear older. Dressed as she was in a casual denim jumper, colored T-shirt and brightly colored wooden necklace, she could pass for a teenager. He hoped she was a great deal older than that. He hated to think he was lusting after a woman half his age.

His eyes hooded, he leaned back, listening to her talk animatedly about Chloe's progress with a half smile on his face. He concentrated at least as much on the sound of her voice as her words. This had to be the best conference
he'd
ever been a party to.

The day was definitely looking up.

 

“Just what the hell are you saying?”

Kate met Michael's gaze unflinchingly but swallowed hard at the mask of severity that had descended over his expression. The look of half-amused indulgence had vanished from his thick-lashed hazel eyes. They were narrowed at her now, as if daring her to repeat herself.

“As I said, Chloe has a great deal of difficulty listening and following directions, as well as an abundance of energy.”

“She's in
first grade,
” he stressed mockingly. “If you're going to teach at that level, you have to be prepared for the activity level of the kids. My God, having Chloe and two of her friends around is enough to keep our house rocking for a week afterward.”

“I've taught first grade for five years, Mr. Friday,” Kate said evenly. “One of the things I love most about my job is the energy and enthusiasm of six- and seven-year-old students. What I'm suggesting is that Chloe's activity level is not totally caused by her age or grade level.”

“And what, in your infinite experience and wisdom, do you believe it is caused by?”

Kate's lips compressed at his sarcasm, but she trod carefully, ready to parry the next explosion. “Her excessive activity would not be so unusual by itself, given her age. But coupled as it is with her distractibility and short attention span, I'm suggesting that there may be a medical factor involved.”

Temper flashed in his eyes, dangerously close to the surface. “You're saying there's something wrong with my daughter?”

Swallowing a sigh, she wondered at exactly what point she'd lost control of this conversation. She'd documented her concerns and anecdotal data very carefully for the past few months and had tried to arrange several opportunities to share it with Chloe's father. After her many frustrated attempts to meet with the man, she'd determined to approach him at his office. She hadn't been prepared for his anger, although defensiveness wasn't all that unusual a reaction.

Her voice remained level. “I try to organize my classroom in such a way that there is ample opportunity for activity throughout the day. Little people need that, and I've found it beneficial to offer it to them. What I usually find is that by this time of year, the students have settled into a routine, are more accepting of structure and are better equipped to handle those times when seat work is required. Chloe has not made that transition, and it isn't because she is consciously choosing not to. When she's supposed to be doing her work, she
might be crawling under her desk, visiting with others or walking about the room.”

His scowl succeeded in wiping away the memory of how his earlier good humor had lightened his expression. Now his face, with its high cheekbones, blade of a nose and square chin, seemed all brutal lines and harsh angles. “So you're saying you can't handle one six-year-old girl?”

“I'm suggesting that it may be appropriate for you to explore medical reasons for Chloe's attention problems. As I've said, she's an extraordinarily bright little girl. But I have to sit with her one-on-one to keep her focused enough to complete her work.

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