Rock-A-Bye Baby, p.1Debbie Macomber
Available for the first time in ebook, enjoy this classic novella by favorite romantic storyteller #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber
Originally published in 1995.
Against his wishes, John Osborn’s mother hires an assistant for his antiques shop. One glance and John knows that Dani is unsuitable—she’s too pretty, off-beat and vivacious for the business. John is certain that she won’t last past the summer in his sleepy seaside town. But Dani is determined to prove herself so she can rebuild her life and repair her broken heart, and she’s going to do it in Ocean Shores. The store sparks her creativity, even if a vintage cradle uncomfortably awakens her buried longing for a family of her own. Her warmth and empathy make her a natural at sales, and despite himself, John starts to like her. But John was deeply wounded by the only woman he ever thought he’d love, so he keeps himself buttoned up and guarded. He may have to admit that Dani is the best thing that’s ever happened to the store…but is she also the best thing that’s ever happened to him?
“You did what?” John Osborn demanded of his mother.
“I hired you an assistant,” Mamie explained in low tones. She glanced nervously toward the woman working unobtrusively in the far corner of the store. “She’s wonderful, John, really. In addition to working the floor, she does light bookkeeping. You know as well as I do that you’ve been needing someone for months. You can’t help liking Dani.”
“Dani? What kind of name is that for a woman?”
“Dani Beckman,” his mother responded. “She’s a sweet thing and I won’t have you upsetting her.”
“Upsetting her? What about upsetting me?” The minute his back was turned his mother took it upon herself to involve herself in his business affairs. This was what he got for asking her to watch the store while he was away on a buying trip. John studied this woman his mother had hired and groaned inwardly. One glance told him Dani was entirely unsuitable for the antiques store.
First off, he didn’t approve of the way she dressed. She had on an outfit that looked like something a rock star would wear. Her black skintight pants weren’t pants at all—they resembled leotards. And if her flowery top was supposed to be a dress, then it was by far the shortest one he’d ever laid eyes on. No one wore hats these days, especially black velvet ones with big yellow daisies.
“Mother, what were you thinking?” he muttered under his breath.
“That you could use the help,” Mamie reminded him.
That was true enough. The antiques business had thrived the last several years, even in the “off” season. John had worked hard to build a clientele in the small seaside community of Ocean Shores.
“I prefer to hire my own help.”
“I know,” his mother said contritely, “but Dani is such a dear. I liked her the minute she inquired about a job. You will, too, once you get to know her. It was either hire her then or let someone else snap her up.”
That was exactly what John wanted. He had no intention of keeping Dani around for more than the next five minutes.
He’d never been comfortable around women like Dani Beckman. She was too pretty, too bright, too gregarious. Mostly too damn young. When he was with someone like her for more than a few hours, John came away feeling dull and witless. This was Patricia’s legacy, he supposed. He hadn’t been clever enough, charming enough, romantic enough to hold on to the only woman he’d ever loved. She’d said he was dead boring when she’d left him, and John strongly suspected she was right.
“Introduce yourself,” Mamie urged. “And John, please, be cordial.”
John supposed that was the proper thing to do, seeing that he’d be laying her off before the end of the day. For everyone concerned, the sooner Dani Beckman was gone the better.
John walked over to where his new assistant was sitting at a desk. From the looks of it, she was tallying a list of figures. “Hello,” he said stiffly, “I’m John Osborn, the owner.” He stressed the last bit of information, hoping she’d realize his mother had only been tending the store as a favor to him.
“Hi. I’m pleased to meet you.” Dani’s face brightened with a smile that outdazzled the lights of Las Vegas. He should have known firing her would be like aiming a rifle barrel at Bambi.
The sensible thing to do would be to explain there’d been a simple misunderstanding. He’d tell her his mother had no business hiring an employee on his behalf. He’d make it as painless as possible and be done with it.
He would have, too, if she hadn’t looked so damn vulnerable, sitting there with those round, dark eyes of hers gazing up at him as if anticipating the worst. For the life of him, John couldn’t make himself say the words.
“I understand Mother hired you for sales and bookkeeping,” he muttered instead.
“Yes.” The woman was no dummy, she must have known what he intended. He noticed the way her fingers tightened around the pencil.
“How much sales experience do you have?” he asked.
She sighed audibly. “None.”
“None,” he repeated slowly and cocked his eyebrows as he assimilated the information.
“I worked for Murphy’s Department Store for nearly seven years,” she was quick to add.
“Seven years?” He didn’t think department stores were into child labor these days. If she’d been employed that long, she had to have been hired while still in junior high school.
“I’m twenty-seven,” she said as if reading his thoughts.
It would have been impolite to check her identification, but frankly John had a hard time believing she was a day over twenty-one.
“I know I look younger,” she said quickly, the words rushed and raised, “but it’s true.”
“And what exactly did you do at Murphy’s?”
“A little of this and that, but mostly I did the window displays.”
His mother certainly knew how to pick them. The woman knew absolutely nothing about the antiques business. Nothing about sales or bookkeeping, either, he’d wager.
“What about your bookkeeping skills?”
“Your mother said the job entailed light bookkeeping.”
“Then you’ve had some experience in this area?” Maybe he was being unfair to prejudge the woman.
“Not real experience,” she admitted reluctantly, “but I routinely balance my checkbook and I’m a fast learner.”
She was batting those big brown eyes at him again. John didn’t doubt for an instant that she’d turned many a man’s mind by fluttering those long lashes of hers. He, however, was immune. It would take a whole lot more than Bambi eyes to change his mind.
“I hope you’ll give me a chance to prove myself.”
She regarded him, and John felt a grudging respect. It was a shame, really. The situation was unfortunate. But he wasn’t going to be blackmailed into working with someone his softhearted mother had hired on a whim.
In addition to everything else, John sincerely doubted that Dani would last more than a couple of weeks, if that long. He’d seen plenty just like her who arrived at the ocean resort for the summer, looking for a good time and a little romance. Once she’d had her fun, that would be the last of her. By that time, he’d have wasted months training her, and would need to start the process all over again with someone new.
The bell above the door chimed and a customer walked inside. John immediately recognized Mrs. Oliver. She was a looker. He’d lost count of the number of times she’d wandered into his store, ey
“Hello,” Dani said eagerly, and moved toward the front of the store and Mrs. Oliver. “It’s lovely weather we’re having for April, isn’t it?”
“Why, yes.” Mrs. Oliver glanced from Dani to John and then back again.
Apparently Dani wanted to prove her sales prowess with the widow Oliver. John almost pitied her. He left the two alone and walked into the back room where his mother was assembling a pot of coffee.
“Well, dear,” she said when he joined her. “What do you think of Dani?”
“She’ll have to go.”
“Go?” Mamie sounded shocked. “What do you mean?”
“Mother, the woman’s completely unsuitable. She knows nothing about antiques. As for the bookkeeping part…that’s a joke. She doesn’t know any more about that than she does sales. For the love of heaven, she dressed mannequins for a Seattle department store.”
“She’ll learn.” Mamie stared at the measuring cup over the rim of her granny glasses, then poured the grounds into a container and inserted it into the coffeemaker.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” John muttered, “but I have no choice.”
“Really?” Mamie turned on the water faucet. Distracted as she was with the task at hand, she seemed not to be listening. “I do hope you’ll reconsider.”
“Give me one reason why I should.”
“A reason?” she repeated. “Actually I could give you several. You need to lighten up a bit, son. Now I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but ever since Patricia—”
“Mother, please, I don’t want to talk about her. Patricia and I are finished, and have been for a good long while. Please, just drop it.”
“I’m not talking about her, dear. It’s you we’re discussing. It’s time for you to realize not every woman in the world is like…her.”
John’s spine stiffened. “You’re doing it again.”
Mamie looked up and sighed expressively. “I am, aren’t I? I apologize. It’s just that I worry about you and the way you’ve thrown all your energy into this business. It’s as though…the shop is your whole life.”
John cleared his throat. He found this conversation uncomfortable. His mother was right, his life did revolve around the antiques store, his collection of books and an occasional game of chess. But he was content and if it was a crime, then he was guilty. He certainly didn’t need or want someone cute like Dani Beckman messing with his mind, reminding him of all the might-have-beens.
“You’re playing the role of matchmaker again, aren’t you?” he asked, making sure the disapproval was thick in his voice. Not that he would consider dating Dani. It was clear to anyone looking at them how different they were. To be perfectly frank, he wasn’t interested in becoming involved with a woman who dressed like a fruitcake. He’d had his fill of feminine games, and a woman’s wiles.
“Matchmaking? Heavens, no,” Mamie answered, laughing softly. “It’s just that, well, you could use a bit of fun and laughter in your life, and Dani’s just the person to brighten things up around here. It’s fine to care about the past the way you do. But John, really, there’s no need to bury yourself in a time long since gone.”
John blinked, miffed by the way his mother involved herself in his affairs.
“Of course, you can let Dani go, if you wish,” she persisted. “Osborn Antiques belongs to you, but I do hope you’ll reconsider.”
The coffee brewed noisily behind him as John mulled over his mother’s words. He pulled aside the drape that separated the office and small kitchen from the main part of the store.
Dani Beckman stood beside Mrs. Oliver. She’d smoothed out the fragile blades of the antique lace fan and fluttered it daintily in front of her face, her lashes lowered.
John had shown the identical fan to this customer no less than ten, possibly fifteen times. He watched, mesmerized as Dani closed the fan and balanced it in the palm of her hand. The distance was too great for him to hear what she was saying, but whatever it was had Mrs. Oliver’s rapt attention.
To his utter amazement, the matronly client nodded sharply and opened her purse. John stood back with his mouth gaping open as Mrs. Oliver wrote out the check.
He waited until the woman had left the store before approaching Dani.
“What did you say to her?”
Dani looked up at him innocently. “About what?”
“She bought the fan, didn’t she?” he asked brusquely.
“I want to know what you said that convinced her to make the purchase.”
“Nothing special,” Dani said, looking mildly surprised by his reaction. “We chatted a bit about who might have owned this lovely fan at one time, and the places it could have been. I read a historical novel recently in which the woman cleverly used a fan to reveal her love for a certain young man.” She hesitated, as if she wasn’t sure she should continue. “I did suggest this very one might have brought lovers together in ages past.”
“I see,” John said with a frown. Frankly, he didn’t understand it. The fan was pricey. He’d had it for several months and had been wanting to sell it, but didn’t think he would get his asking price. Yet Dani had sold it, with ease, to a woman who’d never bought a thing from him.
“Are you going to keep me on or not?” she challenged, her shoulders squared.
John scratched the side of his head while he mulled over the situation. Five minutes ago he’d known exactly what he intended to do. Not anymore.
“You’re going to have to look more like a…” He stopped, not knowing how to say it.
“Go on,” she urged.
“I’d prefer it if you dressed…differently.”
Her eyes revealed her surprise as she looked down on her leotards and top. “What’s wrong with what I have on now?”
“You resemble a teenager. If you work for me, I want you to look like an adult. How old did you say you were? Twenty-seven?” He was probably breaking some employment code that would cause the state to close him down if she ever reported him. But he didn’t care. She wanted honesty and that was what she was going to get.
She seemed eager enough to please, and that suited John, although he didn’t suspect it would last long. “I own the shop, not my mother. She occasionally works for me, but that’s about all.”
John rubbed his hand along the side of his face, still of two minds. If he kept her on, he was asking for trouble. There were plenty of people from the community who’d welcome the opportunity to work for him. By keeping Dani he was depriving someone else of employment.
“I’ll give it a month,” he decided.
“A month,” she echoed, then grinned. “No problem, I’ll have proven myself by then.”
John suspected she wouldn’t stay on more than a couple of weeks. “Frankly, I expect you to be long gone by then.”
“Really?” His assessment of her staying power appeared to nettle her.
“I’ve seen it before. You’re here for the sun and the fun.”
The line about her mouth became thin and white. Her lips relaxed after a moment. “We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?”
* * *
John Osborn didn’t like her. Well, that was fine with Dani, because she didn’t think much of him, either. He scowled at her as if she’d done something terrible by selling Mrs. Oliver the fan. One would think he’d be pleased.
As for the rude comment about the way she dressed, well, she could make a few remarks of her own about his wardrobe.
Mamie had said her son was thirty-five, but John looked older…in attitude, if not in fact. It was as if he’d purposely set out to discourage her. The guy probably didn’t
No wonder he wasn’t married. It seemed to Dani that he’d settled comfortably into bachelorhood, which was perfectly fine with her. At the moment, a relationship was the last thing on her mind.
Frankly, Dani mused, she didn’t care what Mr. John Osborn thought. She was keeping this job. She needed it. Desperately. Working at the antiques shop meant she didn’t have to return to Seattle. It meant she didn’t have to see Bob Adams again for a very long time, if ever, which at the moment suited her just great.
The shop closed at five and after bidding everyone a good evening, Dani headed out the front door.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” she said to John, who looked none too pleased at the reminder.
He nodded without comment.
“Have a good evening.”
“You, too,” Mamie called after her.
Dani heard John mumble something. At first she couldn’t make out what he said, but as she walked across the street and headed for the beach, the words made sense. John had insinuated she’d probably spend the night partying. He made it sound as if she was some kind of party animal, simply because he didn’t approve of the way she dressed. The man had a low opinion of women, and she wondered who had hurt him so terribly to cause him to distrust all womankind.
Dani had been hurt, too. She considered this time, these days, a period of recuperation. She’d moved to Ocean Shores to rebuild her shattered dreams, to repair the damage to her heart.
Her, a party animal? Not likely. It was an effort not to traipse home each night and give in to bouts of self-pity. It demanded energy to count her blessings, instead of remembering what a complete idiot she’d been over Bob.
It had been by accident that Dani had ended up at the ocean the day she’d discovered Bob was involved with Pamela. The pain of finding the man she’d loved with another woman had been so overwhelming, so powerful that she’d gotten in her car and started driving, with no destination in mind.
Her thoughts had been dulled with such intense pain that she was all the way to Olympia, the state capital, before she realized she’d left the Seattle city limits.
Rock-A-Bye Baby by Debbie Macomber / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes