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Authors: Stephanie Bond

Kids Is A 4-Letter Word

BOOK: Kids Is A 4-Letter Word
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Praise for Stephanie Bond’s
Irresistible?

“Stephanie Bond delivers laughout-loud humor…”


Romantic Times

“Author Stephanie Bond has a great gift for droll writing that she effortlessly employs with brilliance…”


Affaire de Coeur

“This book is one of those laugh-out-loud reads with a great last line (no peeking!).”

—Award-winning author Cathie Linz

“Save me from these monsters,” the nanny pleaded

The children seemed oblivious to Jo’s arrival. Shouting and singing, they moved their half-naked, finger-painted bodies around the room in abandon, continuously pelting water balloons at the poor woman they’d tied to a chair. Jo reached into her purse and pulled out a silver whistle. Raising it to her mouth, she blew with gusto.

Everyone froze. “Wow,” said the older boy as he stared at Jo in awe. “Can I have that?”

“No,” Jo snapped, then bit her lip to stem her mounting frustration. In a calmer voice she said, “The game’s over. Untie her, please.”

The boy engaged her in a stare-down. “You’re not my mother,” he said, resentment burning in his green eyes.

Jo knew first impressions were crucial. Walking toward him, she drew herself up and crossed her arms. “But I’m bigger than you are,” she said. “So move.”

To her surprise, he moved. The bucket of water balloons crashed to the floor as he bolted forward to fumble with the knots at the nanny’s wrists. Within moments the woman was free.

Displaying astonishing agility for a woman her age, the nanny leapt up and ran for the front door. Turning back to Jo, she called out,
“They’re all yours. Good luck.”

Dear Reader,

Welcome to another New Year filled with love and laughter! This month Stephanie Bond begins a hilarious duet featuring a hero and heroine who end up with exactly what they don’t want. In
KIDS Is a 4-Letter Word
the last thing the heroine wants is children, so, of course, you know what happens. Next month some of the characters from the first book continue in their own funny and romantic story,
WIFE Is a 4-Letter Word.

A New Year is also a good time to welcome another new author into the LOVE & LAUGHTER lineup. Sharon Stewart has a warm, amusing voice and she tells the charming story of a man who hates romance and a woman who has dedicated her life to it! Merriment and confused emotionsensue.

We have lots more wonderful books, lots of love and laughter planned for all of 1998.

Wishing you all the best for a wonderful New Year,

Malle Vallik

Associate Senior Editor

Kids
IS A 4-LETTER WORD
Stephanie Bond

Dear Reader,

Okay, I confess—kids are not my forte. Infants make me itchy, toddlers instill terror, and school-aged children send chills up my spine! Don’t get me wrong—I don’t dislike kids. I simply don’t understand them! I work with a man who has six young children. One day I started thinking about what the heck he’d do if something ever happened to his sainted wife. Heaven forbid he fall for a woman who—like me—wouldn’t have a clue about kids. And with that ironic thought, this story was born.

Simply
writing
KIDS Is a 4-Letter Word
left me feeling out of control—Claire, Jamie and Billy dragged me along behind them every step of the way! I sympathized with John, who can’t seem to get his children to behave, and with Jo, who flies by the seat of her designer pants when faced with the incorrigible threesome. I laughed and cried with the antics of this mismatched family—I hope you do, too! And don’t forget to look for the sequel,
WIFE Is a 4-Letter Word,
next month.

Meanwhile, I stand in awe of mothers and fathers everywhere—you have the most momentous job imaginable. And is motherhood in my future? Well, my husband (and mother-in-law) are doing their best to wear me down. I’ll keep you posted!

I’d love to hear what you think of

KIDS Is a 4-Letter. Word.

Drop me a note at:

P.O. Box 2395, Alpharetta, GA 30023.

Much love and laughter,

Stephanie Bond

P.S. For more lighthearted fun, look for my first Temptation novel,
Manhunting in Mississippi,
in the spring of 1998.

To my wonderful parents, Willis and Bonnie Bond, for doing everything right.

Many thanks to Blaine Ball, Hillary Bergeron, Rita Herron and Aaron Singleton for sharing their parenting trials and triumphs. Please don’t call me to baby-sit.

1

J
O
M
ONTGOMERY
jumped at the shrill ring of the telephone, but her eyes never left the ominous bank notice on the desk in front of her. PAST DUE. Frowning, she picked up the handset. “Montgomery Group Interiors. This is Jo.”

“This is John Sterling,” the caller identified himself. “I believe my secretary spoke to you last week about the possibility of you doing some work for me.”

Jo’s mind raced. Her weighty appointment with the Pattersons scheduled for this afternoon had pushed other projects from her mind. As she shook her head to clear it, the observation
nice voice
skated on the edge of her subconscious.

She nudged the bank statement aside and opened a file drawer, walking her fingers through the tabs. “Yes, Mr. Sterling, my notes are right here.” Withdrawing a folder, she read, “Residence on 69 Kings Court, five thousand square feet.” The conversation was starting to come back to her. John Sterling was an architect from Atlanta, recently relocated to Savannah. “Your secretary mentioned this would be a comprehensive job.”

“The works,” John Sterling confirmed, his voice rushed. Jo could hear papers rattling and the solid thunk and click of his briefcase being closed. “Furniture, wall coverings, window treatments—everything.”

Oh, that voice.
“I know the street,” Jo confirmed. “When would be a good time to stop by and review samples with you…and your wife?”

The man stilled a few seconds, and Jo assumed he was consulting a calendar. “I’m a widower,” he said softly.

Remorse shot through Jo. “I’m so sorry—”

“Why don’t you come by the house today and take a look around?” His tone was back to business. “Then we can get together in a few days to discuss the job more fully.”

Eligible, affluent, successful and a very sexy voice. Of course, she had Alan, so
she
wasn’t interested. But if John Sterling’s looks were passable, her friend Pamela would be ecstatic.

“Will you be there?” Jo asked, intrigued.

“No, but my kids and their nanny will be.”

The stirring screeched to a grinding halt. Jo winced. She’d never been particularly fond of children, but the last residential job she’d taken had had her maneuvering around the terroristic activities of the five-year-old Tyndale triplets. Now the pitter-patter of little feet struck fear in her heart. “K-kids?” she stammered, forcing cheer into her voice.

“Yeah,” John Sterling confirmed, his voice slowing and flooding with warmth. “But don’t worry—my children are angels.”

J
O INSTINCTIVELY
threw up her arms only a split second before the water balloon exploded against her chest. A shocked gasp stole her breath as she staggered back. The drenched salmoncolored silk coatdress instantly puckered against her skin. Carefully selected brochures and fabric samples fluttered around her feet, absorbing the pools of water, effectively ruined. Stupefied, Jo stared at the owlish face of the little blond girl who stood motionless in the doorway before her. The child’s myopic green eyes nearly disappeared behind thick lenses. Little Einstein tilted her head up to look at Jo, then blinked.

War whoops rang out behind the girl, and Jo gaped in amazement. In the open family room, two male savages, disguised as a toddler and a school-age boy, raced around a middle-aged woman tied to a chair. Each armed with a bucketful of water balloons, they alternately pelted their victim. Water ran down the walls of the large empty den and puddled on the
wooden floor. Colorful rubbery remnants littered the room, including the branches of a scraggly leftover artificial Christmas tree standing in the corner.

“Help me,” the woman cried to Jo, straining pitifully at her bindings.

Jo smoothed her hands uselessly across the front of her sopping dress and addressed the bespectacled girl. “What on earth is going on?”

The girl seemed primarily concerned that the book she protected in the crook of her arm remained dry amidst the battle, but she shrugged and stepped placidly to one side to allow Jo entry. “The boys are playing with Miss Michaels.”

“Help me,” Miss Michaels pleaded again as she twisted in the chair to dodge another balloon that splattered onto the floor. The woman straightened to turn fright-wide eyes in Jo’s direction. “Save me from these monsters.”

The monsters seemed oblivious to Jo’s arrival. Shouting and singing, they moved their half-naked, finger-painted bodies around the room in abandon. Jo cautiously stepped into the room, ducking to escape another randomly flung minibath. Reaching into her purse, she retrieved a silver whistle, raised it to her mouth and blew with gusto.

Everyone froze, the boys startled into abrupt silence.

“Wow,” the older boy said as he stared at Jo in awe. “Can I have that?”

“No,” Jo snapped, then bit her lip to stem her mounting frustration. She took a deep breath and continued in a calmer tone, “What’s going on?” Hands on hips, she glanced from the girl to the older boy.

The red-haired boy frowned and grumbled, “It’s just a game. Miss Michaels said we could tie her up.”

Jo looked to the woman in the straight-back chair, whose dark jersey dress clung to her frail body, her graying hair hanging in wet strands where it had been driven from its bun. She gave Jo a beseeching look. “I didn’t know they had water balloons, and I didn’t realize Jamie—”

“I’m Peter!” the older boy bellowed, glaring.

“Sorry,” the woman said hastily, then added in a low voice for Jo’s benefit, “Jamie thinks he’s Peter Pan. Anyway,” she continued more loudly, “I didn’t realize
Peter
could tie knots so well.”

Jamie-Peter grinned, his chin lifted in pride. “Cub Scout training,” he explained.

Jo addressed Miss Michaels. “Are you Mr. Sterling’s nanny?”

“Yes. Who are you?”

Jo glanced toward the materials she’d dropped at the door and ran a hand through the short damp layers of her hair. “Mr. Sterling’s interior decorator. I take it these are his children?”

Miss Michaels nodded, then motioned with her bedraggled head. “Claire is nine, Jamie—”

“I’m Peter!”

“—Peter is six, and little Billy is almost three.” At the sound of his name, blond-haired Billy held up three chubby fingers in confirmation, then hid behind Jamie, peering at Jo around his brother’s bucket.

Jo narrowed her eyes at Jamie and jerked her head toward Miss Michaels. “Untie her.”

The boy engaged her in a stare-down, challenging her questionable authority. “You’re not my mother,” he said, resentment burning in his green eyes.

Jo felt a pang of acknowledgment over the boy’s loss, but knew first impressions were crucial when establishing authority—and she did not relish a repeat of the Tyndale-triplet disaster. Walking toward Jamie, she leveraged her notconsiderable height advantage as she drew herself up and crossed her arms. “But I’m bigger than you are,” she said calmly, then barked, “so move!”

To her surprise, he moved. The bucket of water balloons crashed to the floor as he bolted forward to fumble with the knots at the woman’s wrists. Begrudgingly, Jo admired the boy’s handiwork, and how he seemed to loosen the tangles easily enough. Within seconds, Miss Michaels was free.

Displaying astonishing agility for a woman her age, the
nanny leaped up and dived into a nearby coat closet, emerging with a hat perched on her wet head, pulling on a coat and retrieving keys from her boxy purse. She spoke to Jo over her shoulder as she moved toward the still-open front door. “They’re all yours. Good luck.” With that, the nanny disappeared outside.

A full two seconds passed before the woman’s words sank in. Jo’s stomach pivoted. “What? Wait a minute.” Jo trotted after the woman, stooping along the way to scoop up a handful of waterlogged samples. “You’re not serious,” she called. Miss Michaels strode toward an older-model sedan sitting in the driveway. Jo laughed nervously and smoothed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “You can’t just
leave.

The woman unlocked the car door, then turned a victorious smile toward Jo. “Watch me.”

Jo’s mouth opened and closed like a puppet’s, but she couldn’t speak. She gestured wildly, finally sputtering, “But you have an obligation to watch these children.”

“So sue me.” Miss Michaels swung into her car, started the engine, backed up and roared out of the driveway.

Panic swelled in Jo’s heart as she watched the sedan disappear down the suburban street. She turned to find the three children huddled on the stoop in the warm January sunshine, eyeing her suspiciously. Was John Sterling’s lucrative project worth all this extra baggage? Jo swallowed and tried to ignore the moisture gathering around her hairline. The only thing she knew about kids was that she knew nothing about kids. In her vocabulary, kids had always been a four-letter word.

“Miss Michaels was a wimpy nanny,” Jamie declared. “Just like the other two.”

“We don’t know you,” Claire said cautiously, extending a hand to Billy to gather him closer. “And we aren’t supposed to talk to strangers.”

Jo’s mind raced. Regroup. The last thing she needed on her hands right now were three hysterical kids. She walked casually back to the children and donned a professional smile. “I’m Jo. Jo Montgomery. So now I’m not a stranger.”

Jamie scoffed. “Jo’s a dumb name for a girl.”

Jo felt a flash of irritation at his rudeness. “It’s short for Josephine. Besides, I know a girl named Jamie.”

“My name’s Peter!” he shouted.

Claire’s chin came up. “We need to see some identification. You might be a kidnapper.”

Jo let out a dry laugh. The only person less likely than she to steal a child would be her boyfriend, Alan. She flipped open her purse and pulled out her license, leaning toward Claire. “See?”

Claire frowned, obviously unappeased. “What are you going to do with us?”

Hoping the answer would come to her out of the blue, Jo stalled, shifting from foot to foot. When it became apparent that divine intervention was not forthcoming, she sighed and asked, “When does your dad come home?”

Claire shrugged. “Usually around seven.”

Jo glanced at her watch. Two-thirty, and she had a meeting with the Pattersons at four. “Then let’s go call him and ask him to come home early, shall we?” She moved her arms in an awkward shooing motion to herd the threesome into the house.

Sighing, Jo massaged a throbbing temple. A touch at her knee startled her, and she looked down into Billy’s big green eyes. Under all that warpaint, he was a cute kid, she supposed. His other hand tugged at his bunchy cotton shorts, the only stitch of clothing he wore. Jo frowned. “It’s warm today, but it’s still wintertime. Where are your clothes?”

“Poopy diaper,” he said solemnly, and lifted his arms to be picked up.

Jo rolled her eyes heavenward. This she did not need.

She stooped and carefully lifted the child, catching a stiff whiff of the offending diaper. “Oh, good Lord,” Jo muttered, exhaling quickly. Walking as gracefully as possible in stiletto heels while holding a thirty-pound toddler away from her, Jo reentered the house.

“Claire, Billy needs his diaper changed,” Jo said, and bent
forward gingerly to set him on the floor. But the toddler resisted, maintaining his hold around her neck like a death grip.

“Noooooooo!” he screamed, and Jo, at a loss for his tantrum, stood back up.

“He’s difficult,” Claire offered unnecessarily, pushing her wire-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of her nose.

“Just go get a diaper,” Jo said, awkwardly rummaging through her purse with one hand. When she found John Sterling’s business card, Jamie pointed her to a phone in the kitchen. On the way, Jo gave the house a practiced once-over.

The two words that came to mind were
big
and
bare.
The rooms boasted interesting lines, which probably appealed to the architect in John Sterling, but Jo had never seen such a complete absence of color and style as existed in this luxurious house. The wooden floors were glorious, the base and ceiling moldings ornately beautiful, but the sparse furniture looked tired and lackluster, the walls appallingly naked.

“He wants you to make the house more homey,” John Sterling’s secretary had directed her over the phone. No small feat, Jo now realized as she heard the woman’s voice come on the line.

“Hello, Susan, this is Jo Montgomery from Montgomery Group Interiors. I need to speak with Mr. Sterling.” Jo shifted Billy’s weight lower on her hip and felt a wide run zip down to the ankle of her panty hose.

“Mr. Sterling isn’t available, can I take a message?”

Jo took a deep breath. “I’m at his house and his nanny just quit. He needs to come home right away.” A flash of pain in her left earlobe nearly blinded her. “Owww!” Jo screamed, bending with the pain, realizing Billy had found her dangling earring and seemed intent on pulling it clean through her ear.

Susan clucked her regret. “Mr. Sterling is on a plane en route from Fort Lauderdale. He won’t land in Savannah until—” she paused and Jo distantly heard papers rattling “—six-fifteen.”

Bent double and holding Billy’s hand rigid, Jo said tightly,
“I have a very important meeting in an hour and a half—what am I supposed to do?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Susan chirped.

Biting her cheek to gather her patience, Jo took another tack. “Do you have a list of sitters Mr. Sterling uses?” Jo glanced over to see Jamie standing on a tall, rickety sofa table, holding the end of a thin curtain sheer and gauging the distance to the ground.
Surely he’s not going to jump.

He brandished a plastic sword in one hand to an imaginary enemy on the floor. “Off with your hand, Cap’n Hook!”

He’s going to jump.
“Jamie!” Jo shouted, half lunging toward him, but she wasn’t quick enough and the phone cord brought her up short.

“I’m Peter!” he yelled as he grabbed the curtain with his free hand and leaped from the tall table.

“Watch out!” Jo yelled as the curtains fell. Jamie was buried in an avalanche of dingy sheers. She dropped the phone and rushed over to the little boy. “Are you all right?” she gasped. Billy cheered for his older brother.

BOOK: Kids Is A 4-Letter Word
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