Baby Benefits(12)


Raina tried not to wince. “But the money,” she protested.

“Forget the money.”

“I can’t forget the money. That bonus is the difference between whether I leave Messina Diamonds to look for another job as an executive assistant or go back to culinary school.”

Lavender rolled her eyes, then opened her mouth and snapped it shut again several times in an exaggerated mime of struggling for words.

“What?” Raina asked innocently.

“Don’t you ‘what’ me.” Lavender pointed the tip of the knife in Raina’s direction. “How many times do we have to go over this? You are not allowed to go back to work. You’ve served your time. The next stop for you is culinary school.”

“Which costs a load of money. Which I don’t have. Which means, the next stop for me is gainful employment.”

“You have money, you just don’t want to spend it.”

Raina pressed her lips together. “How do you know—”

“Momma told me, of course. Did you really think she’d keep secret a savings account with that much money in it?”

“That money isn’t mine,” Raina stated firmly.

“Of course it’s yours. You earned it.”

“I earned it for Momma. And you kids.”

“You’ve been providing for Momma and us for nearly a decade now.” Lavender’s tone made it sound like a bad thing. “It’s time to provide for yourself for a change. Besides, we are doing fine. You said so yourself. Momma’s got disability checks, the house is paid for, and we all have scholarships and financial aid.”

Lavender looked so smug, Raina didn’t bother to argue with her. Raina wouldn’t be dipping into the family’s savings to pay her tuition to culinary school. Yes, for the moment, everyone was provided for. But Raina knew all too well that accidents could happen without warning. Her mother’s stroke nine years ago had taught her that lesson.

But there was no point in arguing with Lavender about it. And thankfully, Raina was saved from having to do so by the ringing of her cell phone. Not her personal cell phone, but her always-on, always-had-to-answer-it work cell phone.

She’d developed a strict rule about not talking to Derek during dinner with her family, but otherwise, she was accessible twenty-four hours a day. Since they hadn’t yet sat down at the table, she pulled the phone from her pocket, glancing at the number as she did so. She didn’t recognize it, but was relieved to see the New York area code. The last thing she needed was to talk to Derek right now.

“Raina here.”

“Louraina Huffman?” asked a disdainful woman’s voice.


“The Louraina Huffman who’s Derek Messina’s assistant?” The voice seemed to imply that maybe some other Raina Huffman had swiped the phone for nefarious purposes.

“Yes,” Raina repeated.

“Well, then, I’ll need you to get a hold of him. I’ve been calling for the past day and a half and haven’t reached him. It’s been most inconvenient.”

Raina nearly chuckled, despite her grim mood. Whoever this lady was, she was clearly put out. Somehow it just lightened her spirits knowing that some pretentious woman in New York was having a hard time with Derek, too.

Keeping her humor to herself, she said in her most professional voice, “If you’ll just leave me your name and number I’ll pass them on to him immediately.”

“This is Kitty.”

She couldn’t place the name, so she asked, “And you are?”

“His fiancée.”

He’d known very few people in his life whose strength of will matched his own. Isabella, apparently, was one of those rare individuals.

Not that fortitude, perseverance and pure mule-headedness were bad qualities in a daughter. He just wished she hadn’t aimed them all at him. Or that she’d do so more quietly.

By nine-thirty, after less than six hours alone with Isabella, he’d given in and called Mrs. Hill to take over. The only thing worse than Mrs. Hill’s cloying sympathy when she showed up at his house was the smug expression on Isabella’s face. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear she was gloating.

This minor setback only fueled his determination. She was his daughter. He would make her love him.

However, despite his resolution to win her over, Isabella still seemed set against him. And apparently she’d convinced Mrs. Hill, as well.

This morning, when he’d told the nanny she could go home, Mrs. Hill had practically smirked her disbelief. She’d left him three different numbers he could reach her at and offered more than once to check back in come nightfall. As he’d watched her leave, grim resolve had settled in his belly. Last night, he’d given in to his own insecurities and called for backup, but tonight would be different. After all, he had Raina coming to the house to work her magic.