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Heart's Harbor
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Heart's Harbor


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By rights, anyone would agree Julia Davies is easy to envy. She's smart, pretty, and both kids and dogs love her. She easily attracts men, but her impulsive stubbornness and frequent lack of good judgment have led her down a road to the danger she finds herself in. Fleeing to faraway Halifax to escape an abusive relationship becomes the catalyst for Julia taking what she expect to be a low-key job as a nanny.

Alex Sutherland comes with baggage of his own. The death of his beloved wife has taken a toll on his two young boys, leaving them fragile and in need of the kind of nurturing only a mother can provide. Overworked and desperate to find the perfect caretaker for his kids, Alex never expects to find himself in a romantic entanglement...and unexpected peril. 


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Chapter 1


Widower desperately seeking an energetic and imaginative nanny

for two active preschoolers. Excellent salary and benefits offered.

Send resume to

P.O. Box 135, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


"You're not really thinking of applying for this?" Melissa asked, pointing to the circled ad in the Chicago Tribune with her precisely manicured finger. "You do know that preschoolers are small children?" 

She emphasized the word "children" with distaste.

"I happen to like small children. They're a lot more fun than most of the adults I know," Julia replied. "Honestly, I sometimes wonder what you and I have in common. I'm usually very suspicious of people who don't like kids."

"I can't imagine what you ever saw in Carl, then. He doesn't strike me as being fond of anything that doesn't wear a short skirt."

Julia grimaced. "It was pure physical attraction, I'm sorry to say. I was actually flattered when he started to pay attention to me. If I had known then, what I know now..." her voice trailed off sadly.

"Ah, hon, I'm sorry to bring that whole mess up. You know that I'll do whatever I can to help you, but I don't think running away is the answer."

Julia sighed. Melissa could be like a dog on a bone when it came to giving unwanted advice. 

Returning her attention to the paper, Melissa said, "I don't like the use of the word desperate here. No woman needs a desperate guy. And besides, I think calling children 'active' is like saying a house is a 'handy-man's dream'.I say, forget about this job."

"I don't think you understand what I'm going through," Julia replied, shaking her head. "Baby-sitting for Atilla the Hun would be better than spending one more day with Carl looking over my shoulder! I've already sent in my resume, so you can save your breath."        

This seemed to silence Melissa for the moment. She sipped her coffee and scanned the bustling food court as if searching for inspiration for her next argument. She opened her mouth with a new objection, but Julia cut her off.  

"I've made up my mind. I'll take the job if it's offered to me. But even if I don't get it, I'm heading to Halifax. I need to start over, and it sounds like as good a place as any." 

Melissa pressed her lips together in obvious disapproval. "You don't even know if you'd like it there. You can be so stubborn sometimes!"    

"Now there's a case of the pot calling the kettle black," exclaimed Julia. "You don't need to worry. I've done my homework. The ad was running last week, so I've had time to research Nova Scotia. Halifax is a lovely little city, right on the Atlantic Ocean." She paused and started to root enthusiastically through her purse. "Here, take a look at these brochures."  

Melissa took the glossy papers and began to flip through them with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

"Can't you just imagine the smell of the salt air and the sound of the seagulls on the waterfront?" Julia said, reaching over to point to a photo. Her voice was alive with excitement. "I can see myself running there in the early morning. Oh, and look. There's the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove. I'd love to take the children there."

"You really can see all this in your mind, can't you?" Melissa asked. "I mean, right down to playing tag in the morning and finger-painting in the afternoon."

Julia blushed, her fair skin turning a delicate shade of pink. "I don't know how old the kids are or what they like to do, but I do like to imagine myself looking after two children. I'd be good at it."

"I can see that you've put a lot of thought into your decision," Melissa said, handing the brochures back. "But are you absolutely positive that you're ready to change your whole life like this?"

"Being friends with you is about the only part of my life that isn't due for a change. I mean, look at me. Managing a dress shop isn't what I intend to do for the rest of my life. And it sure wouldn't be any hardship leaving that expensive cracker box I live in. As for my dad...," she paused and sighed heavily. "We don't see much of each other since he remarried, so, that means you really are the only person I'll miss. But you know we'll keep in touch." She smiled reassuringly at her friend. "I'm ready to start over, and if my relationship with Carl is the catalyst, then so be it! At least something good will have come from that whole nightmare." 

"Okay, you win!" Melissa said. "I hope that you get this job and that this desperate single dad is the man of your dreams."

"Now hold on a minute," Julia spluttered. "Who said anything about looking for the man of my dreams? Your imagination is even better than mine!" 

Melissa eyed her friend skeptically. "Are you trying to tell me that you haven't given any thought to what this guy might be like? Come now. I know you better than that. You're a romantic at heart! Besides, once this guy gets a look at you, he'll be head over heels in love." 

"I think I've learned my lesson about rushing into relationships based on physical attraction. It's going to be a while before I'm ready to date again, and the guy will have to be pretty special!" She glanced down at her watch. "Coffee break is over. Back to the salt mines," she said, regretfully. "Thanks for trying to see things my way."

***

Julia was daydreaming happily about her new life in Halifax as she locked up the shop that evening. A possessive hand on her shoulder startled her from her reverie.

"You didn't answer my notes or my phone messages, baby. You aren't still mad at me are you?" 

"Carl? What are you doing here? I told you that I didn't want to see you again!" she said, twisting herself out of his grasp and turning to face him. 

She was suddenly struck by the deceptiveness of Carl's appearance. He was tall and well-muscled with thick wavy hair, a mustache, and piercing blue eyes. How could someone who looked so good be so cruel? 

She eyed him warily but could see none of the tell-tell signs of imminent anger. 

"You know you don't mean that, baby," he purred. "I made a mistake, but I said I'm sorry. Now let's just forget it."

"Forget it!" Julia was incredulous. "I don't go out with men who cheat on me."

"Listen, Julia, I don't know who you think you're talking to, but you'll go out with me until I tell you differently." All attempts at sweetness were over and his voice rose dangerously.

"Look, Carl. It's just not going to work out. We're really not meant for each other," she replied softly, grateful for the people who were slow to leave the mall. "I mean, you can't be totally happy if you're dating other people."

"I told you. She meant nothing to me," Carl insisted, as if this rationalized his behavior. His voice dropped and he changed tactics. "Let me take you out to dinner to make it up to you."

For the hundredth time, Julia wondered how she had ever been attracted to this sorry excuse of a man. He was a bully and a cheat who thought that flowers and candlelight could fix anything. She smiled reassuringly at a man who had stopped a few paces away, obviously wondering if she needed assistance. 

"You know, I've had a long day, Carl. I'm really not up to it tonight," she answered, hoping to avoid a scene.

"I understand completely, Blue Eyes. We'll make it tomorrow night, then. Things will be great. You'll see." 

Julia fought the revulsion that was rising in her throat as he reached out to embrace her. He kissed her forcefully. It was all that she could do to stop herself from wiping his taste from her mouth while he was watching.

"Good-bye, Carl," she said, silently vowing that would be the last time she'd have to say those words.

She cursed her shoes the entire four blocks to her flat. They were stylish pumps, not overly high, but still they were not the running shoes that she so desperately needed at this moment. A good run would have dispelled the anger and tension that was cramping her body. Instead, she had to make do with walking briskly and running up the three flights to her apartment. Once there, she flipped on the light switch and surveyed her small quarters. 

The room was functional, but basically uninviting. She had rented the furnished bachelor apartment three years ago, fully intending to move into something better eventually. But she spent so much of her free time outdoors that moving had just never seemed worth the energy, and now she was glad. Packing would be a cinch.

She could see the light flashing on her answering machine from across the room, so she drew the dead bolt, poured herself a glass of juice and hit the play button. 

Carl's voice filled the small space, sending a shiver down her spine. He had left several messages, starting with apologies and ending with angry demands for her to "pick up the damn phone!". It was obvious that he had called before their so-called reconciliation, and she was just about to turn the hateful machine off when she heard an unfamiliar voice.

"Hello! Julia Davies? My name is Alex Sutherland. I'm the one who advertised for a nanny. I got your resume and I'd appreciate it if you'd call me collect at [902] 555-1549. Thanks."

Julia played the message again, trying to picture a face on the other end of the line. His voice was all business, but there was a warm quality it that made her imagine that she would like him. She took a deep breath and dialed the operator to make the call.

"I have a collect call from a Julia Davies," the nasal voice intoned. "Will you accept the charges?"

"Julia, who? Oh, yes," a harried voice answered. "I accept."

"Hi. Is this Alex Sutherland? I'm returning your call about the job," Julia said. The noise in the background sounded like a small invading army.

"Just hang on a second." 

He put the phone down with a thump and Julia could hear him shooing the noisemakers outside. 

"Sorry about that. Just let me find your application." 

It was another couple of minutes before he came back on the line. Julia was relieved that the call was on his phone bill. 

"It's cyanide hour around here, so you'll have to bear with me," he joked. "Oh, here we go. It says here that you are presently managing a dress shop. What makes you think that you are qualified to be a nanny?"

His manner was suddenly all business, and this put Julia on the defensive. She felt like saying, my qualifications are right there in front of you, but he obviously wanted to hear them from her lips. Fair enough, she thought. This is a job interview, not a tea party.

"I've had a lot of experience caring for children, but not in a paid capacity," she began, formally. "As an only child, I've always been attracted to large families. My best friend in high school was the eldest of six kids, and her family practically adopted me. I spent a lot of time babysitting the younger children. I believe I have Mrs. Cooper down as one of my references. I also feel that running a household is a lot like running a business. They both take organization and imagination to make them successful."

"I guess I'd have to agree with you on that," he said. "Now, I won't kid you. This is a very demanding position. The boys have been through a lot in the past little while, and they tend to be a bit needy right now. Primarily, I want someone who is wonderful with children, but the job is a live-in position that includes cooking and housework. Is that a problem for you?"

"I'm not a gourmet cook, but I know the basics and I'm sure I could cope with the housework. But as you say, it is the welfare of the children that would be my primary concern. May I ask how old they are?"   

"I have two boys, five and almost three. Can you hold on for a minute?" he asked, abruptly dropping the phone to speak sternly with someone. "Look, I'd really like to meet you face to face. I'm hoping to finish interviewing early this week. Would it be possible for you to fly up? At my expense, of course."

She only hesitated for a second. "I'll catch a plane tomorrow, if possible, and see you on Monday."

"Super. I look forward to it," he said, sounding as if he meant it.

Julia had a lot to think about after she hung up the phone. She sat quietly staring at the neglected geranium on her counter. Finally, she took a deep breath and with a determined air she dialed the airlines. Credit card in hand, she confirmed her flight arrangements to Halifax for the next afternoon and then, panic-stricken, she dialed Melissa's number.

"Hello, Melissa? I'm really going... I mean tomorrow... to Halifax... for an interview." Her voice was breathless with excitement.

"I'm really happy for you," Melissa replied, though it was obvious she was more sad than happy. "Are you taking everything with you? I mean, what if you don't get the job?"

"I really think I have to take the plunge," she answered. "I'll find another job there if I don't get this one. I'm going to tell my landlord that this place will be available at the end of the month. Then I'll inform Candace that I'm taking the six weeks' vacation she owes me and that she'll have to find a new manager. That just leaves packing. I was wondering, if you're not busy..."

"I'll be right over!" Melissa answered.

Julia felt a lump form in her throat. "You're the best!" she declared. "I'll really miss you!"

"Now don't get all sentimental on me. You'll make me cry, and you know I hate to mess up my eye make-up." They both giggled at the truth of this. "I'll bring some wine and a gallon of ice-cream, and we'll have a real going away party. Okay?"

"Okay. See you soon."

***

When Julia awoke the next morning amidst a jumble of boxes and with a pounding head-ache, she wished that she had passed on the wine. It was all she could do to get herself ready by the time the taxi arrived to take her to the airport.

Still, her spirits were high as she paused momentarily on the threshold of her apartment, before closing the door firmly on that chapter of her life.

 

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