Love Burns by Adrian J. Smith
General Release Date: 17th August 2021
Word Count: 79,076
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Kimberly Thompson—or Kim Burns, her stage name—is a celebrity chef whose career is taking off. As a single mom who has a penchant for being a bit of a bitch, she goes through nannies like the flavor of the month until Becca Kline is sent to her by Kiddie Academy.
Becca—known as ‘the fixer’—is often sent to homes considered to be troublemakers. In charge of caring for four-year-old Michael, she is determined to make this job her last before student teaching in the fall and finishing up her degree, which she has been working on for the better part of a decade.
Neither Kimberly nor Becca are prepared for the changes headed toward them, and they both have to learn the hard way that love doesn’t wait or discriminate.
Reader advisory: This book contains references to drug use.
Becca carefully set the last of her picture frames into the cardboard box then shoved two shirts around them, making sure they were tight against the sides. Folding over the flaps, she pressed down lightly as she pulled the packing tape across to seal the box. This day had come far sooner than she had hoped, but the twins she had watched over for the past year were officially on track with life, and she was no longer needed. It was time for them and her to move on.
The agency, Kiddie Academy, was sending her to a new home. They had warned her it would most likely be a temporary position. No one lasted long at this appointment. Becca had heard the rumors before Kiddie Academy had even decided to send her there. The other nannies all talked, all shared, and she had seen a vast number of women go through that house in just two short years.
Nerves ramped up in her belly as she picked up the box and walked it out in a light March rain to her run-down car. After opening the back door, she slid it in, her entire life fitting into the small sedan. Sighing and brushing away a few tears, Becca went to the house, triple-checked that she had everything, then set the alarm and left. All her goodbyes had been said, and this was how she’d wanted it—quiet and without fanfare.
Slipping behind the wheel, Becca turned the engine and backed out of the drive. A year had been a good run, her longest nanny position yet, but it was time for a new life—perhaps her last before she finally finished her degree. She was the fixer, the one who went into struggling homes and helped the kids turn around. That was what her employer Kiddie Academy called her, anyway. With a steadying breath, Becca headed to the address on the files she’d acquired, ready to begin her new job.
When she pulled up outside the house, she was gobsmacked. The house itself was beautiful, but it was also huge. This was the upper class. They routinely had nannies and maids who were live-ins and had their own sections of the house. That was why she’d opted to work for those families, to cut down her costs, pay more for school—that’d been her theory, anyway.
But this house? There was something different about it. The tans and browns blended together to look like a vast desert in the middle of a rainforest because of the number of trees and shrubs and green things that surrounded the building. Stepping out of her car, the glimmer of the sun off the waters in the pool caught her eye. She took a step to the side of the house to get a better look and let out a deep breath. Clenching her jaw, Becca flipped through the papers in her hand again and looked for the name of her new employer.
Something about it rang a bell, but she couldn’t place the name. Still, the niggling feeling in the back of her mind didn’t leave. Turning on her toes, Becca headed for the front door. Nerves swelled in her belly, but she tamped them down before pressing the bell. The ring echoed through the house. There was a loud thump then pattering feet as their owner no doubt raced toward the door.
Becca heard a small voice on the other side, squeaky but clear.
“Can I open it, Mama? Can I? Can I?”
“Wait until I get there, please. You know better than to just open doors for strangers.”
“But can I open it?”
Becca smiled to herself, knowing she’d likely have the same conversation with any child in her care. It was only a few more seconds before the handle turned and the left side of the French door snicked open a crack, revealing the bright brown eyes and red cheeks of a small, cheery boy. Becca planted the softest smile she could on her face and bent down to his level.
“Afternoon,” she offered. “I’m Becca. You must be Michael.”
“Open it all the way, kid.” The woman’s voice, still behind the door, was solid and strong, but her admonition to Michael was said with a tone of love.
Michael shoved the door the rest of the way open, the door itself flinging rapidly toward the wall. A small hand with thick, short fingers caught it before it slammed to a stop.
“Michael…we don’t open doors like that.”
“Who are you?” His small voice was full of curiosity. He completely ignored the beautiful woman now standing fully revealed before Becca.
Becca had to work hard to pry her eyes away from her, but she managed to glance again at Michael and hold her hand out for him. “I’m Becca. It’s good to meet you.”
The woman stepped behind Michael and pressed her fingers to his shoulder in a protective manner. “Are you from Kiddie Academy?”
“I am.” Becca straightened her back and turned her smile toward whom she presumed was Kimberly, her new employer, hoping it would disarm some of the hostility coming off her in waves. “I know I’m a little early.”
Kimberly waved her away before stepping forward and extending her own hand. “It’s all right. I’m Kim. This is Michael. We just finished dinner. Come on in. Michael can give you the grand tour while I clean up.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Becca put her focus on Michael as she swallowed the lump in her throat. First impressions were everything, and while she was there for Michael, her impressions of Kimberly mattered far more, since she was the source of Kiddie Academy’s problems. “What are you going to show me first?”
Michael bounced on his bare feet briefly before running inside. “My room!”
Chuckling, Becca waited for Kimberly to move to the side so she could come in, but Kimberly hesitated. Their eyes locked, and Becca found herself lost in the pale hazel with a hint of yellow. Becca raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, surprised when Kimberly jerked and held her hand open for Becca to walk through the doorway.
As soon as Becca was inside with Kimberly behind her, out of her immediate sight, she was able to relax briefly. But she was just as lost as ever. Michael was nowhere to be found, and the inside of the house matched the outside. It was huge. The living area took over most of what she could see, and from there, all she saw was a kitchen.
Kimberly stepped beside her. “His room is down the hall off the kitchen. Third door on the left.”
Becca headed away from Kimberly, hoping she’d masked the shudder racing up her spine. The niggling feeling that she knew Kimberly came back sharply, but Becca ignored it and focused on Michael—the main reason she was there. She knocked on the door and grinned.
“You left so fast that I missed where you went. You must be as fast as Flash!”
Michael stopped where he stood and cocked his head to the side, the toy tractor slipping from his fingers onto the floor. “Who’s Flash?”
“What? You don’t know who Flash is?”
Michael shook his head. Becca stepped onto the carpet and curled her legs under her to sit down on the floor in front of him. She grabbed the tractor and set it the right way. “Flash is the fastest man alive. He was struck by lightning, and he became as fast as lightning. He can run for days and never stop. He can run so fast that you can’t see him.”
“Is he a superhero?”
“He sure is.”
“Cool!” Michael plopped down on the floor and grabbed the controller for his tractor. He drove it in circles around Becca, and she laughed as he ran into things and narrowly avoided her. Occasionally, she would pretend she was scared he was going to scoop her up and dump her somewhere else. Michael roared with laughter as he attempted to run her over.
Becca had no idea how much time had passed, but when she glanced out of the window after hearing footsteps down the hall, she realized it was dusk. She glanced around the room for a clock, found none then looked at her watch. “Michael, do you suppose it’s getting close to bedtime?”
He sheepishly crossed his legs and looked down at his hands in his lap. “I guess.”
“Do you think we should clean up your toys before bed, so your room is nice and clean in the morning?”
“I guess…” he muttered.
Becca smirked and picked up the tractor. “Where does this go?”
He jumped up, took it from her and put it in a cubby against the wall. It didn’t take them long before the room was cleaned, and when he turned to look toward the door and not Becca, Becca was taken off-guard.
“We cleaned my room!” He beamed.
“That you did.” Kimberly’s voice was like silk, floating over Becca’s skin and warming her. “Did you show Becca anywhere else other than your room?”
“Ummm. I did.”
Becca glanced up in time to see Kimberly give Michael a look that meant business. “Did you?”
“No. We just played.”
The smile that brushed Kimberly’s lips was one of pure love. “Why don’t you get changed into your jammies, and I will show Becca the rest of the house.”
He jumped up without another question. Becca, however, rolled to her side then got up to her feet. When she stood, facing the door, she found herself within an arm’s reach of Kimberly. Her heart rate ratcheted up and her breath left her lungs.
The curt tone was back, and Becca couldn’t figure out if it was just her Kimberly wasn’t liking or if she was like this with everyone. Doubling down on her efforts, Becca knew she’d have to make progress, otherwise her name would end up back on the available list like everyone else who had been through this house.
Becca followed Kimberly the way she had come before, her eyes focused on Kimberly’s swaying hips. Kimberly had generous curves and a rounded butt covered by skin-tight leggings. Her shirt billowed a little more as she moved, her dark hair straight down her back.
“There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall that Michael uses. The kitchen’s here, living area… There is a den down that hall, along with two guest rooms. There’s also the sunroom that leads to the pool that way. Michael is not allowed near the pool or in the backyard without you or me. You are CPR trained, correct?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Becca answered.
Kimberly wrinkled her nose. “No need for that. You can call me Kim.”
“Kim. Kim Burns.” The click in Becca’s head was nearly audible. “You’re Kim Burns. How did I not put that together?”
Kimberly hummed to herself. “I am. Didn’t think you recognized me. I tell Kiddie Academy not to share, so I’m not surprised they didn’t tell you. That, and Burns is my maiden name, not my married name.”
Becca’s eyes widened again, her muscles locking up with a touch of fear and worry. “I’m so sorry. I should have recognized you. I’ve seen your cooking show.”
“I don’t expect people to know who I am, but thank you.”
Becca grinned and winked. “I didn’t say I liked your show. I just said I’d seen it.”
Kimberly smirked, and it was the first time Becca felt she’d made a chink in Kimberly’s thick and solid armor. It was a small one, but a chink at that. Kimberly pushed open the door to a room down a hallway the complete opposite direction from Michael’s.
“This is your wing…bedroom and bathroom. You’ll have to share the kitchen with us. I do apologize for that, but I rarely cook when I’m home.”
“Don’t blame you for that. I can’t imagine cooking all day then coming home after work and wanting to cook again.”
Kimberly let out a snort. “Exactly. We can discuss everything else once you get a bit more settled and once Michael is asleep. I’d rather not mess up his routine any more than necessary.”
“Absolutely. I’ll just bring in my stuff then.”
“Here’s a key.” Kimberly held out the single key between her thumb and forefinger, dangling it in front of Becca. “I’ve got a file for you with the alarm code and everything else that you’ll need to know.”
“Got it.” Becca reached forward and held her hand open so Kimberly could drop the key into her palm. She would much prefer to avoid touching Kimberly if at all possible. Something about her set Becca’s nerves on fire.
About the Author
Adrian J. Smith has been publishing since 2013 but has been writing nearly her entire life. With a focus on women loving women fiction, AJ jumps genres from action-packed police procedurals to the seedier life of vampires and witches to sweet romances with a May-December twist. She loves writing and reading about women in the midst of the ordinariness of life. Two of her novels received honorable mentions with the Rainbow Awards.
AJ currently lives in Cheyenne, WY, although she moves often and has lived all over the United States. She loves to travel to different countries and places. She currently plays the roles of author, wife, mother to two rambunctious toddlers, and occasional handy-woman. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog.
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