They"d broken up before she went off to school and while Victoria had been sad at their parting, she"d been looking forward to the full college experience of partying, hookups, and eventually finding a serious boyfriend. Preferably in pre-med.
Instead, it was her senior year and not only had she"d not had the full college experience and hence was still a virgin, but more importantly, her father had passed away from a heart attack during her freshman year. His unexpected death had left Victoria, her stepmother, and her half-sisters reeling in grief at his loss.
Victoria had taken a leave of absence for a year, shocked by the turn her life had taken. She"d already lost her mother as a toddler, but she"d never expected to lose her father too. Victor Montford had been young, barely forty-five. Neither he nor his wife Kathy had even suspected he had issues with his heart until he dropped dead during an evening run at the local track.
Even now she could barely remember the funeral or the weeks that followed it. Victoria had eventually come out of the fog of grief more determined than ever to take the place of her father as provider for her family.
After paying off the house and outstanding bills, the life insurance policy would tide them over until the twins were out of high school, but only if Victoria took on the financial burden of paying her own way.
There was no question on what she would do. Although Kathy argued vehemently against it, saying that Victor wouldn"t want that burden for his oldest daughter, Victoria couldn"t be dissuaded from her decision.
She wouldn"t rely on anyone"s help"no matter how well-meaning.
So Victoria worked until she fell into an exhausted heap every night and usually woke up five hours later to start the cycle all over again. And even though she was running on empty more often than not, Victoria was confident that one day all her efforts would be rewarded.
She"d earn her degree in accounting, a solid position with the ability to become a licensed CPA, and the peace of mind knowing she"d done the best she could for her family.
But like all best-laid plans, hers were about to run aground when she met Mr. Adrian Hawthorne one late night at work.
Two more sections left to go and then I"m done for the night.
Victoria liked the quietness of her job. No customers to serve, no smiles to fake, just the hum of her vacuum cleaner and the never-ending shuffle of her mp3 player.
Confident in the solitude of her space, Victoria turned up the volume and belted out her best rendition of Muddy Waters" "(I"m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" while vacuuming a path in front of the break room door. While singing about being born for good luck, she did a little backwards slide and immediately stumbled into someone.
Large hands reached out to steady her. Victoria whirled around, mouth open in shock and embarrassment painting twin stripes on her cheeks. Muddy Waters droned in her ears while she looked dumbly at the man still holding onto her shoulders.
Tall, broad-shouldered, dark hair, hazel eyes framed by thick lashes, and a perfect face to die for, the stranger stared at her as intently as she stared at him.
His mouth moved, the words lost to those of Muddy"s. Victoria shook her head and he frowned. Belatedly, she took a step back and tried not to focus on the fact that his fingers had flexed, as if he hadn"t wanted to let her go.
Victoria"s fingers fumbled with the vacuum"s power button. She managed to shut it off after two attempts. She then yanked the buds out of her ears and then turned to face the gorgeous man who still stood there.
"Sorry about that, Sir. I didn"t know anyone was behind me." Victoria pushed a few loose strands of hair behind her ears, nervous the longer he went without speaking.
He simply remained silent, head cocked in apparent thought as he swept his gaze from the top of her dark hair to the tips of her sneakered toes.
I bet his smile has the power to knock a girl silly.
She pushed the wayward thought out of her mind. Victoria had never had trouble at her position, even after working there for the last two years, and hoped she hadn"t just inadvertently invited it with her lack of awareness.
Maybe this was an executive who didn"t appreciate the cleaning crew making their presence known with raucous singing" Maybe he took it as a sign of sloppy work or not caring about her job"
What if he complains" They might not just reprimand me.
Victoria"s body tensed with nervousness. She really needed this position and hated to think that she"d just lost it over something so stupid.
When he didn"t say anything or make a move to leave, Victoria decided it was best to act if nothing wrong had happened.