A Mail-Order Dream

By: Janelle Daniels

Phoebe wrapped her arms around Aria’s legs, the skirt bunching in her small grasp. “Oh please don’t make Aria leave, Father.”

“Miss McKinnon,” he reminded his daughter gently. “Now, head inside.”

Both the kids lowered their heads and mumbled in unison, “Yes, Father,” before walking back into the house.

Now it was just him and Aria McKinnon, but she didn’t look contrite about not following his schedule. In fact, she looked rather annoyed, if the adorable notch between her brows told him anything. He’d been hesitant to hire her because of her looks. She would marry, but even more than that, he’d wanted to stay away from her because he desired her. Any many would. She wasn’t the dull, quiet type with washed-out coloring. Aria McKinnon was radiant, a poppy among daisies. And the more annoyed she got, the prettier she became.

“Miss McKinnon, perhaps I wasn’t clear yesterday. My children need to be held to a strict schedule of lessons and times of pondering so they learn to control their impulsive behaviors and take their places in this world.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but he stilled her with a raised finger before continuing, “My children will follow the schedule I provide. That isn’t up to you. Do I make myself clear?”

She took a deep breath before answering. “Yes. I understand you perfectly.”


“But you’re wrong,” she added under her breath.

“I beg your pardon?” Had she really just contradicted him? He was too stunned to feel anything else.

He was sure she’d back down and bite her tongue, but she bravely raised her chin, her emerald eyes flashing, and replied in an unwavering voice, “I said you were wrong. Children shouldn’t be cooped up in doors all day, doing endless boring tasks. They’re children, not employees, not servants. They need fresh air, they need to explore and play and experience the world around them.”

Her impassioned speech brought a fierce color to her cheeks that Cam desperately wanted to reach out and stroke, but he curled his fingers into fists to keep from doing such a ridiculous thing. “I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, but I’m their father and I love them. I only want what’s best for them, and it’s clear they need more structure. If you’re to be their nanny, I need to know you’ll do as I ask.”

She mashed her lips together, and he could only imagine what she was holding back. Part of him even wanted to know what it was. Instead, she nodded her head. “From now on, I will follow your schedule.”

He nodded in return, never doubting that she’d agree in the end. That’s how things always worked for him. People followed his orders, they didn’t question. Aria was new, so he’d allow some time for her to adjust, but if one of his employees didn’t do as they were told, they were let go. End of story. “I had no doubt you would agree.”

When her eyes lit up, he held back a smile. She really was beautiful when riled. Even if he couldn’t do anything about it, a man could still appreciate it.

The next day, Aria strode into the nursery and her heart broke at the sight of the two kids sitting dejectedly at their work table. “Why the long faces?” she asked, even though she already knew the reason. “You wouldn’t want them to stay that way, would you?”

Neither smiled when they looked up at her.

She nodded wisely and knelt between them. “Then again, it could be a way of scaring off unwanted dogs or cats. Perhaps even a skunk or two. It could come in real handy.”

When Phoebe’s mouth twitched, Aria pounced and tickled the girl. “I saw it, I saw it! It won’t be stuck forever!” She switched and tickled Thomas when he grinned at her antics.

Heaving a breath, she folded her legs under her skirt and sat on the floor. “Listen, children. I know what your father said yesterday made you sad, but it doesn’t need to.”

“We disappointed him again,” Thomas said, trying to act like it didn’t matter to him, but he was still such a little boy and his lip trembled.

“No. He was upset with me because I didn’t follow the schedule. It’s very important to your father, and we want to make him happy, right?”

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