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The Ties that Bind

By:Emilie Rose

The Ties that Bind
Emilie Rose

One

Anna Aronson aimed a measured breath at the plastic wand and wished the bubbles exiting the opposite side could magically carry her worries away on the breeze.

The boys playing at her feet in the thick emerald grass squealed and gurgled in the infectious way only toddlers can, making her smile despite impending disaster.

She had to get this job.

A flash of movement caught her attention. She glanced away from the boys scampering after the bubbles, and spotted the woman who'd interviewed her earlier coming toward them. Tension wound inside Anna like an Archimedean spiral.

"Mr. Hollister will see you now, Anna. He's waiting in his office. Take the doors on the left side of the patio." She gestured to the luxurious, sprawling Greenwich, Connecticut, home.

Anna licked her dry lips and lowered the wand. "The boys … "

"I'll watch them while you talk to the boss. He has the final say. But for what it's worth, you have my vote." Mrs. Findley held out her hand for the bottle of bubbles and wand.

Anna, feeling as if she were surrendering a life preserver in rough seas, handed them over. This interview felt very much like a sink or swim situation. If she didn't get this job she wouldn't be able to pay this month's rent or electric bill, and she'd be left with no option except to swallow her pride, go home and beg for help even though her mother had already made it clear that Anna and Cody would not be welcome in the retirement community where she resided.

But hopefully it wouldn't come to that. "Thank you, Mrs. Findley."

"Call me Sarah. And, Anna, don't let Pierce intimidate you. He's a fair employer and a good man despite the armor plated personality."

Armor plated personality?

Trepidation closed Anna's throat. She couldn't have spoken even if an appropriate response had materialized in her seized up brain. Instead she nodded and headed for the house. The distance seemed endless, and by the time she reached the stone porch stairs of the two-story colonial her breaths came quickly-as if she'd run a mile instead of walking a few hundred yards.

Through the glass door Anna spotted her prospective employer sitting behind a massive wooden desk. The air jammed in her lungs. Please, please, please let this go well.

She knocked on the glass. He looked up from a stack of papers, scowling, then bid her to enter with one sharp snap of his head. Her hand slipped on the polished brass knob. She had to blot her damp palm on her dress before trying again and pushing open the door.

Pierce Hollister, with his supermodel chiseled features and thick, dark hair styled in one of those intentionally messy cuts, looked as if he belonged in a glossy magazine advertisement for an expensive product that any young millionaire might want to buy, and though he'd dressed casually in a black polo shirt opened at the base of his tanned neck, he still reeked of power and prestige.

But a handsome, charming, wealthy man had contributed to her current financial predicament. She couldn't afford to let her guard down with this one.

"H-hello, Mr. Hollister. I'm Anna Aronson."

Hazel eyes without a trace of friendliness inspected her from head to toe. She hoped her simple shirt dress and sandals passed muster.

"Why were you fired from your last position?"

Flustered by the terse question even before she'd closed the door, she bought time by focusing on the-ohmigod original-art on the walls around him and pushing the door until she heard the lock catch. So much for a polite handshake greeting.

"I was let go because I refused an after school playdate with the father of one of my students."

"He propositioned you?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you file a complaint with the headmaster?"

"I did. But the parent in question is one of the school's primary benefactors and his wife is their most successful fundraiser. My complaint was ignored."

"How long did you work for the school?"

"The dates are in my resume."

"I'm asking you."

Why would he question her credentials unless he thought she'd made them up and wouldn't recall them? "The academy hired me part-time straight out of college as a tutor for some of their struggling students. Six months later when a teacher quit unexpectedly they offered me a full-time teaching position. All totaled I worked for the school for three and a half years."

"And despite your history as an employee the school fired you because of one parent's allegations. They chose to take his word over yours."

"The headmaster believed generous private school donors were harder to come by than elementary school teachers."

"Or perhaps they were looking for an excuse to get rid of you because you weren't good enough."

The unjust allegation stole her breath. "I've received exemplary evaluations at every review and the salary increases to go with it."

"And if I call the school to verify your story?"

Her hopes sank. He didn't believe her. He wasn't the first. And until someone did she'd never find a job that would pay enough to cover decent day care for Cody while she worked. Maybe if she could pick up more students to tutor and college papers to edit she could make ends meet …

Who are you trying to fool? That won't be enough.

She fought the urge to fidget beneath his condemning stare. "If you call the school you will be told the parent in question said I picked on his son unmercifully after he-the father-refused my advances."

"Did you make advances?"

She jerked in surprise. No one had asked that before. "Of course not. He's married."

"Married men have affairs."

"Not with me they don't."

"Your resume states you graduated with honors from Vanderbilt. My assistant tells me that's one of the best education programs in the country. How is it you can't find a teaching position?"

This felt more like an interrogation than an interview. "Apparently, saying no to powerful, well-connected people has repercussions that carry far beyond the local job market."

She suspected she'd been black-balled.

"You have no nanny experience."

"No, sir, but I routinely handled twenty children at once, more when I worked the academy's summer camp program, and I am a parent used to coping with bed, bath and meal times."

He leaned back in his leather chair, steepling his fingers and pinning her with his unblinking gaze. She looked back hoping-praying-he'd see the truth and willingness to work hard in her eyes. The silent scrutiny stretched interminably until she was as uncomfortable as she'd been that day in the headmaster's office when she'd been unjustly accused.

"For what it's worth, I don't believe your story."

His words settled like a weight on her shoulders. Frustrated because she couldn't prove her innocence, Anna could only stare hopelessly into that uncompromising face as hope left her like a soda going flat. Until the headmaster, her integrity had never been questioned. She'd always been the smart one, the levelheaded and trustworthy one who always got the job done. And now nobody believed her.

If she ever wanted to teach again she'd have to find a way to clear her name. But until then she had to feed and house her son.

"I wanted a more mature woman to look after the boy," Hollister continued. "And you come with a liability in the form of another baby."

"Cody is seventeen months old, only six months older than your son. They should be good company for each other and provide a little social interaction," she insisted but when Hollister's expression turned even more formidable she wished she'd kept her mouth shut.

"One noisy child in the house is bad enough. Two will be a disaster. I ought to show you the door. But Sarah swears you are the mos

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