Windy City Weddings Book One
Not a single detail escaped Dennis’s notice. Not the curls in Audrey’s hair, or the graceful curves of her feminine shape. Not the easy way she sat on the classroom floor with his young son, or the way she smiled at their game.
And certainly not the way she looked up at Dennis and blinked slowly once, then again, before rising to greet him. He’d caught her off guard, but she was very good at hiding it and composing herself.
Dennis approved of her quick recovery.
That was his way – to carefully absorb every detail, and then to assess and manage everything within his control. He was methodical by nature. Precise. Thorough.
Why, then, as she walked forward to greet him, did he seem to forget everything around him but Audrey?
Just for the briefest moment, at the touch of her hand, he was utterly certain that nothing could ever go wrong if she was in his life.
But things could go very, very wrong. He knew that beyond any doubt. It was the reason he was now a single father, the reason he had to monitor every detail in his son’s life. How else could he keep the boy safe? How else could he ensure his son would have a good and happy life?
Audrey could help with that. She owned a private daycare, best in the city. She understood children, knew his son, and even looked beautiful when she blushed.
Suddenly, Dennis knew exactly what he wanted.
And what Dennis wanted, he always found a way to get.
Lincoln Park, Chicago
Audrey Turner–Miss Turner to a mob of three-foot-tall scamps–grabbed pushpins and a stack of patriotic cardboard cutouts and climbed onto the absent teacher’s desk. It was the second-to last Thursday of the school year, the second-to-last Thursday she’d have to fill in for her employee on maternity leave, and the second-to-last Thursday Theme Day. Today’s theme: the American Revolution. Stars, bars, and a Liberty Bell, the kind of theme that went over better with the parents than the kids. No matter. The truth was, Miss Turner’s School was designed to provide prestige to the parents as much as it provided organic juice boxes to the preschoolers.
And with the small downturn in the number of applications for next year, pleasing the parents was a new worry. What was causing the decline? Was it the economy? Or something more sinister? With high-achieving parents, even the tiniest downturn could signal the beginning of a radical change in attitude. Audrey needed the summer to discover some extra flourish that would convince Chicago’s upper echelon that Miss Turner’s School was still unquestionably the leader in early childhood education.
Audrey tacked up a length of bunting and stepped off the desk to survey her handiwork. The front of the classroom looked like a red, white, and blue explosion. Perfect.
Just then, little Olivia Sorenson bounded through the door.
“Miss Turner, Miss Turner, look who I brought!” She had a stranglehold on one manicured adult finger. “It’s my mommy!”
“Hi, Mrs. Sorenson. This is a nice surprise.”
Mrs. Sorenson pulled her finger free. “Actually, it’s Ms. Sorenson now. The D-I-V-O-R-C-E was final last week.” She sounded nervous but her face was smooth and calm, courtesy of Botox. “I was wondering….”
“Yes?” Audrey prompted. “How can I help?”
“Well, it’s rather delicate.” She waved her jeweled hand and almost managed to move her cheeks in a smile. “Oh, I can just come out and tell you. I’m trying to contact Dennis Delaney.”
“Yes, Cole’s father. Dennis Delaney. You know, he’s quite the genius at managing stocks.”
“I thought he was an investment banker.”
“Oh, is he? I thought–well, just the same. Could you give me his phone number?”
“No, I can’t. School policy. We don’t disclose any personal information.”
“Oh. Well, what time does he pick up Cole? Maybe I could arrange to bump into him.”
Something about the eager glint in Ms. Sorenson’s eyes made Audrey glad that she could demur truthfully. “Cole’s nanny drops him off and picks him up.”
“Oh.” Ms. Sorenson managed to look disappointed without moving a muscle.
Could it be possible that she had a little crush? Nah, couldn’t be. Audrey had never met Dennis Delaney, but from his numerous notes to her on heavy monogrammed stationery, she’d imagined him as an uptight, fastidious type with a bow tie and scrawny arms, a late-in-life father scrabbling for control over his offspring. Not the type to draw the interest of any woman, no matter how deep his pockets were.
“I suppose I’ll just have to bump into him around the neighborhood, then.” Ms. Sorenson dashed for the door, her heels clacking against the tile. She didn’t even say goodbye to her daughter, who watched her leave with a sad-puppy face. Audrey knew what to do.
“Olivia, I’m so glad you’re here. I need a special helper with our decorations. Can you do the tape while I do the streamers?” Olivia perked up and trotted across the floor to the teacher’s desk. Within seconds, she’d managed to tangle her fingers in a long and very sticky strand of tape.
Audrey bent to help Olivia just as Cole Delaney and his nanny Susie came in. Cole dumped his purple backpack with a wave and bounded for the turtle tank in the back of the room.
“Hey,” Susie said by way of greeting. She was dressed, as always, in a black tee that wouldn’t clash with her hair dye. The current shade was Ginger Passion, but it might as well have been named Orange Juice. “Where’s the Starbucks?”
“Where’s the teacher’s aide?” Audrey replied.
Susie understood her meaning right away. No aide, no freedom to make a coffee run.
“Oh. Drag. Well, here’s today’s special delivery.” She held out a sealed letter on Dennis Delaney’s stationery. “It’s going to be tough to get through it without caffeine, you know.”
“Just drop it on the desk. I’ve got a situation here.” Audrey tore the strip of tape and managed to liberate Olivia’s thumb.
“I see.” Susie grinned. “A tape emergency. We have those all the time.”
“It’s too sticky,” Olivia said in a matter-of-fact way.
“Got any pointers?” No matter how Audrey pulled, the tape only seemed to get tighter, like a Chinese finger trap.
“Scissors. That’s what you need.” Susie walked around to the front of the teacher’s desk and located a pair of blunt-nosed kiddie scissors with dinosaur handles. “Here you go.”
Audrey shot her a grateful glance and began snipping delicately at the snarls. “Any chance I could persuade you to hang around today? I really need some help. Teacher out on leave, and a magically vanishing aide.”
Susie shook her head. “Nunh-unh. Daytime is Susie time.”
Audrey groaned. “Great. Hey, you must have passed Ms. Sorenson in the hall just now. Did she talk to you?”
“Nope. Who’s she?”
“One of the mommies. Wants to talk to Mr. Delaney about something.”
Nanny Susie grinned. “Let me guess. Thirty-something, recently divorced?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“They all want to talk to Mr. Delaney, if you know what I mean.” Susie wiggled her bright orange eyebrows in a lewdly suggestive manner.
“Really? I find that hard to imagine.”
“Eh, well, he’s not my type.” Susie shrugged. “But the second wife wannabes seems to find him appealing.”
Audrey finally freed Olivia, who scampered off to play with Cole in the back of the room.
“OK, let’s see.” Audrey reached for that day’s letter from Dennis Delaney. “Cole says he ate a cookie yesterday even though he’s not supposed to have sugar. Well, isn’t Cole the little snitch. No more cookies for him!” She scanned the next line. “Cole’s shoelace was frayed and dangerously close to breaking. I shouldn’t have let him walk home like that. Shame on me.”
Susie groaned. “Yeah, I heard about that one, too. I’m supposed to stop at the store this afternoon and pick up some spare shoelaces for you.”
“Thank heaven the school year is almost over. I’m running out of room for Cole’s spare everything.”
The final lines wiped the grin from Audrey’s face.
I will be picking up Cole from school today. There is an essential matter that I wish to discuss with you personally. Please advise Nanny Susie of your availability.
“He wants a meeting?” Audrey dropped the letter on the desk. “What’s up with that?”
“I can’t say,” Susie said.
“Can’t, or won’t?”
But Susie only shrugged.
“Well, you can tell Mr. Delaney that I’ll be here until six as always.”
“Will do.” Susie walked toward the door, waving and blowing raspberries at Cole as she went.
“Hey,” Audrey called after her. “Did I do something wrong?”
Susie turned and shot her a devilish grin. “Not yet. But don’t worry. There’s still time.”