Harlequin Presents #3185
Originally published: 11/01/13
Always read the fine print!
Tycoon Vincenzo Tomasi needs a new nanny for his niece and nephew by Christmas. And the million-dollar salary on offer will be more tempting than anything in Santa’s sack! Audrey Miller already works for Enzo and loves children, and stepping into his family would dramatically help her own.
What Audrey doesn’t know is that Enzo expects the right candidate to become his wife—and high on the requirements list is sexual compatibility. While she’s lusted after her enigmatic boss for years, will innocent Audrey risk everything to explore her irresistible attraction in the most unlikely interview process ever?
“Million Dollar Christmas Proposal is a heartwarming Christmas tale about two individuals who know where their priorities lie and pursue a means to that end. Vincenzo and Audrey were truly a match made in heaven without any overly dramatic misunderstanding to cloud the issues in Million Dollar Christmas Proposal.
Both Enzu and Audrey had horrible people that set examples for them early on, but they found that they were able to get away from that and still find happiness in Million Dollar Christmas Proposal
Million Dollar Christmas Proposal was filled with snapshots of Enzu and Audrey and their times together, showing how well they meshed—two sides of the same coin. There weren’t overly dramatic moments and misunderstandings in Million Dollar Christmas Proposal, because the leads were more mature and seemed to know exactly what they needed to provide a fulfilling life for others—finding love between them was just a bonus!” – Miranda, Joyfully Reviewed
“I LOVE this book! It is a wonderful love story with very likeable characters. So many romance novels have the protagonists snipping and sniping at each other through the whole book before magically realizing they really love each other. In this book the love story builds over time and just feels so right. The whole thing was very romantic.”-Patrasnana, amazon.com reader review
“This book has everything I look for in a romance, it was hot and sexy and funny and emotional. The story was extremely well written …deserves more than a 5 star rating!!” ~Goodreads reader review
“You want me to find you a wife? You cannot be serious!”
Vincenzo Angilu Tomasi waited for his personal administrative assistant to close her mouth and stop making sounds like a dying fish gasping for water. He’d never heard her talk in exclamation points, wasn’t sure she was capable of raising her voice even.
Fifteen years his senior and usually unflappably confident, Gloria had been with him since he took over at the NY branch of Tomasi Commercial Bank more than a decade ago.
Enzu had never seen this side of her. Had not believed it existed and would be quite happy to put it behind them now.
When she didn’t seem inclined to add anything to her shocked outburst, he corrected, “I will provide these children with a mama.”
Although he was third generation Sicilian in this country, he still gave the old-world accented pronunciation to the word.
His niece, Franca, was only four years old and his nephew, Angilu, a mere eight months. They needed parents, not disinterested caretakers. They needed a mother.
One who would see them raised in a stable environment unlike what he had known as a child or had been able to provide for his younger brother. Which, yes, would mean the woman would have to become his wife as well, but that was of negligible consideration.
“You can’t possibly expect me to find them that. It’s impossible.” Outrage evidenced in every line of her body, shock dominated Gloria’s usually placid-whatever-the-circumstances expression. “I know my job description is more elastic than most, but this is beyond even my purview.”
“I assure you, I have never been more serious and I refuse to believe anything is beyond your capabilities.”
“What about a nanny?” Gloria demanded, clearly unimpressed with the compliment to her skills. “Wouldn’t that be a better solution to this unfortunate situation?”
“I do not consider my custody of my niece and nephew an unfortunate situation,” Enzu told her, his tone cold.
“No. No. Of course not. I apologize for my wording.” But Gloria did not look like she had an alternative description to offer.
In fact, once again, she seemed to be struck entirely speechless.
“I have fired four nannies since I took custody of Franca and Angilu six months ago.” And the current caretaker was not looking to last much longer. “They need a mama. Someone who will put their welfare ahead of everything else. Someone who will love them.”
He had no personal experience with that type of parenting, but he’d spent enough time in Sicily with his family over there, he knew what it was supposed to look like.
“You can’t buy love, sir! You just can’t.”
“I think you will find, Gloria, that indeed I can.” Bank President and CEO, the driving force behind both the expansion from a regional financial institution to a truly international one and founder of his own Tomasi Enterprises, Enzu was one of wealthiest men in the world.
“She will have to be educated,” Enzu said, interrupting further ranting on his assistant’s part. “A bachelor’s degree at least, but not a PhD.”
He didn’t want someone who was driven to excel academically at that level. Her primary focus would not be on the children, but her academic pursuits.
“No doctors?” Gloria asked faintly.
“They hardly keep hours conducive to maintaining the role of primary caregiver for the children. Franca is four, but Angilu is less than a year old and far from being school age.”
“It goes without saying the candidates cannot have any kind of criminal record; I would prefer they be currently employed in an appropriate job. Though the woman I choose will give up her current job in order to care for the children full-time.”
“Naturally.” Sarcasm dripped from Gloria’s tone.
That at least he was used to.
“Yes, well, no candidate should be younger than twenty-five and no older than her mid-thirties.” She would have to be his wife as well.
“That narrows down the pool significantly.”
Enzu chose to ignore his assistant’s mocking words. “Previous experience with children would be preferred, but is not absolutely necessary.” He did realize it was unlikely an educated woman in a career now, unless it was one related to children, would have experience with them.
“Oh, and while I will not immediately rule out someone who has been married previously, she cannot have her own children that would compete with Franca and Angilu for attention.”
Franca had already experienced enough of that sort of neglect and Enzu was determined she never would again.
“The candidates should be passable in the looks department if not pretty, but definitely no super model types.”
The children had already been subjected to the beautiful, but vain and entirely empty headed Johana as mother and step-mother.
His brother Pinu’s taste in women, from his first serious affair which had resulted in Franca and a mother who had been only too happy to walk away once Enzu met her financial demands to the wife who had died with him in the crash, had been inarguably abysmal.
This time around Enzu would be choosing the woman and he was confident he could make a far superior decision to the ones Pinu had made in that department.
Gloria did not reply to Enzu’s completed list of requirements, so he went on to enumerate the compensation package he’d worked out for the successful candidate.
“There will be both financial and social benefits for the woman taking on this new role. Once both children have reached their majority without significant critical issues,” he emphasized. “Their mother will receive a stipend of ten million dollars. Each year she successfully executes her maternal duties she will receive a salary of $250,000 paid in monthly installments. She will receive an additional monthly allowance to cover all reasonable household and living expenses for her and the children.”
“You really are prepared to buy them a mother.” Gloria was back to looking gobsmacked.
“.” Hadn’t he said so?
“Ten million dollars? Really?”
“As I said, the bonus is dependent on both children reaching their majority without going off the rails. It will be paid when Angilu turns eighteen, but if one of the children chooses to follow in my brother’s footsteps, she will still receive half for the successful raising of the other one.”
He did realize there was a certain amount of self-will in path a person chose to take in life. He and his brother’s couldn’t have been more different, though they’d been raised in almost identical circumstances.
“And she will be your wife as well?”
“Sì. In name at least.” For the sake of Franca and Angilu’s sense of family and stability.
Gloria stood, indicating she was ready to return to her work. “I will see what I can do.”
“I have every confidence in your success.”
She did not look reassured.
Well that could have gone better.
Audrey brushed impatiently at the tears that wanted to fall. When had crying ever made a difference?
Neither her tears, nor those of her twelve year old brother had made a difference to Carol and Randall Miller six years ago. Pleading had only been met with disgusted impatience and implacable resolve unhindered by any emotion, much less love.
Maybe she should have waited a few weeks until Christmas and asked then. Weren’t people supposed to be filled with charity during the Christmas season? Somehow, she didn’t think it would make any difference to her parents.
Audrey should have known they weren’t going to change their minds now. She’d been an idiot to think that Toby being accepted into the prestigious Engineering School’s Bachelor of Science program at MIT would make a difference.
But she hadn’t even asked for any financial assistance, just a place for Toby to live while he attended school. If her parents didn’t want him commuting to the MIT campus in Cambridge from their Boston home, they could have provided living accommodations in one of their many real estate holdings throughout the city.
They’d categorically refused. No money. No help in any way.
Wealthy and emotionally distant, Carol and Randall Miller used the carrot and stick approach to parenting with an unwavering conviction in the rightness of their opinions and beliefs. When that didn’t work, they washed their hands of what they considered failure.
Like they had with her and Toby six years ago.
It had nearly broken her brother to be rejected so completely by his parents, but he’d come back from the abyss stronger and determined to succeed and be happy. And at twelve, he’d had more certainty about what he wanted to do with his life than Audrey had at twenty-seven.
She had no grand plan for her life, nothing beyond raising Toby to believe in himself and to be able to realize his dreams. Audrey’s own dreams had been decimated six years ago.
She hadn’t just lost the rest of her family when she took Toby in six years ago. Audrey’s fiancé had broken up with her. Thad hadn’t been ready for children he said, not even a mostly self-sufficient twelve year old boy.
When her parents withdrew their financial support, Audrey had been forced to take out student loans to finish out her third year at Barnard, but her final year had been well beyond her means. She’d had no choice but to transfer her credits to the State University of New York and complete her degree there.
She’d had to get a full-time job to support herself and her brother. Time and money constraints meant that it took her nearly four years of part-time online coursework to finally get her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.
Her parents had been right about one thing. It was a supremely impractical degree, but she wasn’t sure she would have finished university at all if she hadn’t been studying something she loved so much. Her coursework had been her one break from the stresses and challenges of her new life.
She and Toby had that in common. They both loved learning, but he was committed to excelling in a way she never had been.
With determination her parents should have been proud of, Toby had earned top marks in school and worked on gaining both friends and confidence in his new environment. He’d said he was going to be happy and her brother was one of the most genuinely joyous people she knew.
She couldn’t stand the thought of him losing that joy once he realized they simply couldn’t make MIT happen.
It wasn’t fair. He deserved this chance and Audrey just couldn’t see any way to give it to him.
Only the best and the brightest even got considered for MIT and those who truly stood out among this elite group were accepted. The private research university accepted fewer than ten percent of their applicants for incoming freshmen and transferring from another school was almost impossible.
Which made any plan that had Toby attending a less expensive state school to begin with and moving on to MIT such a remote possibility as to not be considered on at all.
Toby hadn’t just gotten accepted either, he’d won a partial scholarship. It was a huge deal. His high school administration and counselor were over the moon, but not Carol and Randall Miller.
They hadn’t softened their stance toward their son one bit. The one question they’d asked had been if Toby still claimed to be gay. When Audrey had assented, they’d made it clear they wanted nothing more to do with their youngest son. Ever.
Worse, they’d offered her both a return to the family fold and an obscene amount of money, more than she would need to help Toby got to MIT, with two caveats.
The money could not be used for Toby and Audrey had to sever all ties with her baby brother.
That so was not going to happen. They were family and to Audrey, that word meant something.
But all the will in the world wasn’t going to pay for Toby to live his dream and attend MIT.
He wasn’t eligible for federal financial aid because until the age of 25, their parents’ income would be used to determine his need. Even if he had been, MIT was a very expensive school. Four years of text books alone would pretty much wipe out what Audrey had managed to save for his college expenses over the past six years.
The cost of living in Boston or Cambridge was high as well, leaving no wiggle room for Audrey to make up for the tuition not covered by the partial scholarship.
Audrey was still repaying her student loans. Her job at Tomasi Enterprises barely covered their living expenses now that her parents had stopped making the child-support payments required by the state. Toby had turned eighteen two months ago, and things had gotten lean, but she wasn’t pulling any money from his college fund. No matter what.
The New York housing market was ugly. Even outside the city where she’d moved with Toby when he first came to live with her. And because she wasn’t in a city apartment, there was no rent control. Each new lease she’d signed had included a bump in their rent. Their current year’s lease was going to be up a month before Toby graduated.
Audrey had no idea how she was going to make the new rent without the child support payments. Finding a cheaper apartment in Toby’s school district wasn’t happening either. She’d been looking for the past three months, just to get on a waiting list.
She didn’t know what she was going to do, but she wasn’t giving up.
She might not have any dreams left, but she still had a boatload of stubborn.
Unable to believe what she’d heard, Audrey remained in her stall in the ladies room for several minutes after the two senior support staff who had been talking in the outer area left.
The bathrooms in the Tomasi Enterprises building were swank, providing an outer sitting area where female employees could take their breaks or breastfeed their babies in onsite daycare. Vincenzo Tomasi was known for his pro-family stance.
While the man himself was an unashamed workaholic, he expected employees with families to actually have a family life. Many of the company’s work life effectiveness policies made that clear.
And what Audrey had just heard would seem to indicate that Mr. Tomasi took his commitment to family even more seriously than anyone could ever imagine. Seriously? Ten million dollars for raising his children acquired through the recent tragic deaths of his brother and sister-in-law?
$250,000 a year in salary besides? It sounded too good to be true, but it worried her too. Because Mr. Tomasi clearly believed he really could buy a loving mother. What he was a lot more likely to get was a woman with dollar signs in her eyes.
Like the one who had been listening to his personal administrative assistant complain about her newest and impossible assignment. From the way she’d talked, it was obvious the other senior support staffer was more than interested in being a billionaire’s wife. That didn’t mean she would make a good mother.
But putting on a show to get the job? Easy.
After all, how many people in Boston believed Carol Miller was an adoring and proud parent? Audrey was only too aware of how easy it was to put on that kind of show.
She’d been taken in herself, once upon a time.
The two women discussing what Audrey considered Mr. Tomasi’s very personal business, hadn’t bothered to make sure no one was using the toilet stalls and would overhear them.
While the stalls had actual interior wooden doors that reached the floors, they were all open air a foot from the ceiling for ventilation purposes.
Sound carried. Words carried. And Audrey had heard an earful.
Palms sweaty, heart beating faster than a rock drummer’s solo, Audrey stood outside Vincenzo Tomasi’s office.
Was she really going to do this?
She’d spent the last three nights tossing and turning, her brother’s future and Mr. Tomasi’s outrageous plan vying for attention in her brain. Somewhere in the wee hours of that morning, she’d come up with a pretty brash plan of her own.
Unquestionably risky, nevertheless if it worked, she could give her brother the best Christmas gift ever. The realization of the dream he’d worked so hard for.
Going through with it could also result in her immediate dismissal.
But despite the lessons of the past six years, or maybe even because of them, she had hope. She and Toby had made it this far when their parents had been sure they would crash and burn, both returning to the family fold repentant and willing to toe the line.
They’d said as much when she’d gone to them to ask for help for Toby’s schooling.
So hope burned hot in her heart.
Hope that maybe fate had smiled on her and Toby for once. That maybe destiny had put Audrey in that bathroom stall at just the right time to overhear the conversation between Gloria and the other senior support staff member.
Hope that maybe Audrey could make a difference, not only in her own life and that of her brother, but for two orphaned children. Maybe she could give them the kind of loving upbringing she’d longed for, the kind that their uncle clearly wanted for them.
It was insane. This plan of hers. No arguing that. And probably, Mr. Tomasi was going to laugh her out of his office, but Audrey had to try.
If for no other reason than to impart to him just how easily his scheme could end up backfiring and hurting the children he was so obviously trying to protect.
Audrey had considered long and hard about whether to approach Gloria first or Mr. Tomasi directly, but eventually she realize she didn’t have a choice. Not if she wanted to give her crazy, dangerous plan a chance of succeeding.
Approaching Gloria meant giving the PAA the chance to turn Audrey down before Mr. Tomasi even heard about her. She couldn’t let that happen.
Audrey couldn’t ignore the semi-public nature of the discussion in the bathroom either. After that lack of prudence on Gloria’s part in keeping her boss’ information private, Audrey had no confidence in anything like real discretion on her own behalf.
After all, Gloria’s loyalty to her employer was legendary. She had no such allegiance to Audrey and even less impetus to keep Audrey’s brazen suggestion to herself.
So, Audrey had to figure out a way to see the CEO without his PAA present. It wasn’t as hard for her as it might be for someone else who hadn’t spent the last four years fixated in hopeless fascination on the man who owned the company where she made her living.
She’d seen pictures of him before transferring to the company headquarters from the bank, but the first time Audrey had caught a glimpse of the gorgeous, driven man herself? She’d stopped breathing and that part of her that used to dream became captivated.
She watched, paid attention to everything she heard about the CEO. And every fantasy between wakefulness and dreaming Audrey’d had in the last four years had starred Vincenzo Angilu Tomasi.
Her hand froze on the door handle as she had the sick worry that maybe this plan of hers was just another one of those.
Only she fulfilled every single one of the requirements the PAA had said Mr. Tomasi had for the job candidates. Even so, Audrey was fairly certain Mr. Tomasi was in no way expecting an applicant from the lower floor offices of his own building.
While she’d been born into a family that were themselves considered high society, Audrey couldn’t begin to lay claim to that now either. She’d attended Barnard for three years, but her degree was from SUNY and the only one of her friends from those days who still kept Audrey in her orbit was Liz.
The roommate who had saved Toby’s life.
Besides, while Mr. Tomasi might not want a super model like his dead sister-in-law Johana for the position, he probably wasn’t interested in a woman as average as Audrey.
Her long hair the color of chestnuts was several shades lighter than his more exotic espresso brown and arrow straight besides. While the drop-dead gorgeous CEO had Mediterranean blue eyes, an exciting and unexpected combination with his almost black hair color, Audrey’s were the same chocolate brown as her brother.
And they didn’t shine with Toby’s zest for life either. The responsibilities and work of her adulthood had taken that from her.
She was average in height as well, with curves that weren’t going to make any man stop and do a double-take. Not like the six-foot-four inch corporate king, who looked more like an action movie hero than a CEO.
Audrey knew she wasn’t the first or last woman to fall for him at first sight.
He didn’t need to settle for average.
Oh, crap. All she was doing was psyching herself out and that wasn’t going to help. Not at all. Either she was going to do this, or she wasn’t.
Okay, so she had a crush on the man. So, sue her. She wasn’t applying for the position because of it.
She was here because she wanted to make life better for three children who deserved something better than the hand dealt to them. Her brother might be eighteen, but he was still her child in every way that counted. Even if he didn’t see things that way.
For his sake, and that of the little ones, Audrey had no choice but to take this chance.
Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open to Mr. Tomasi’s office without knocking.
He was sitting behind his desk, reading some papers spread out in front of him.
“I thought you weren’t going to be back for another thirty minutes,” he said without looking up from the papers, clearly believing the intruder in his office was his PAA.
Just the sound of his voice made her breath freeze in her chest and it impossible to speak.
His head came up when his comment was met with silence. At first, his eyes widened in surprised confusion and then narrowed. “It is customary to knock before entering to office of your CEO.”
Funny, he had no doubt she was an employee, not a client or business associate.
“My name…” She had to stop and swallow to wet her very dry throat. “My name is Audrey Miller, Mr. Tomasi and I’m here to apply for a position with you.”