A Millionaire for Cinderella

By: Barbara Wallace

HOW LONG DID it take to examine one little old lady? Patience paced the length of the hospital emergency room for what felt like the hundredth time. What was taking so long?

“Excuse me.” She knocked on the glass window separating the admissions desk from the rest of the emergency waiting area. “My...grandmother...has been back there for a long time.” She figured the lie would get her more sympathy than saying “my employer.” Luckily there’d been a shift change; the previous nurse on duty would have called her on it. “Is there any way I can find out what’s happening?”

The nurse gave her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, we’re really busy today, and things are backed up. I’m sure a doctor will be out to talk with you soon.”

Easy for her to say. She hadn’t found her employer crumpled at the foot of a stairwell.

Ana’s cry replayed in her head. Frail, weak. If only she hadn’t been in the other room...if only she hadn’t told Nigel he needed to wait for his dinner, then Ana wouldn’t be here. She’d be having her tea in the main salon like she did every afternoon.

Patience couldn’t help her sad, soft chuckle. A year ago she didn’t know what a salon was. Goes to show how much working for Ana had changed her life. If only Ana knew how she’d rescued Patience, taking her from the dark and dirty and bringing her into a place that was bright and clean.

Of course, Ana couldn’t know. As far as Patience was concerned, her life started the day she began cleaning house for Anastasia Duchenko. Everything she did beforehand had been washed away.

The hospital doors opened with a soft whoosh, announcing the arrival of another visitor. Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed, and not because of the June heat disrupting the air-conditioning. The conversations stilled as all attention went to the new arrival. Even the admissions nurse straightened. For a second, Patience wondered if a local celebrity had walked in. The air had that kind of expectancy.

His tailored shirt and silk tie screamed superiority as did his perfect posture. A crown of brown curls kept his features from being too harsh, but only just. No doubt about it, this was a man who expected to be in charge. Bet he wouldn’t be kept waiting an hour.

The man strode straight to the admissions window. Patience was about to resume her pacing when she heard him say the name Duchenko.

Couldn’t be a coincidence. This could be the break she needed to find out about Ana. She combed her dark hair away from her face, smoothed the front of her tee shirt and stepped forward. “Excuse me, did I hear you ask about Ana Duchenko?”

He turned in her direction. “Who’s asking?”

For a moment, Patience lost the ability to speak. He was looking down at her with eyes the same shade as the blue in a flame, the hue so vivid it couldn’t possibly be real. Lit with intensity, they were the kind of eyes that you swore were looking deep inside your soul. “Patience,” she replied, recovering. “I’m Patience Rush.”

She didn’t think it possible for his stare to intensify but it did. “Aunt Anastasia’s housekeeper?”

His aunt. Suddenly Patience realized who she was talking to. This was Stuart Duchenko, Ana’s great-nephew, the one who called twice a week. Actually, as far as she knew, the only Duchenko relative Ana talked to. Patience didn’t know why, other than there’d been some kind of rift and Ana refused to deal with what she called “the rest of the sorry lot.” Only Stuart, who managed her financial affairs, remained in her good graces.

“I thought you were in Los Angeles,” she said after he introduced himself. Ana said he’d been stuck there for almost a year while some billionaire’s family argued over a will.

“My case finished yesterday. What happened?”

“Nigel happened.” Nigel being Ana’s overly indulged cat.

She could tell from Stuart’s expression, he didn’t find the answer amusing. Not that she could blame him under the circumstances. She wondered, though, if he would find the story amusing under any circumstances. His mouth didn’t look like it smiled much.

“He was in the foyer meowing,” she continued. “Letting everyone know that his dinner was late. Near as I can guess, when Ana came down the stairs, he started weaving around her ankles, and she lost her balance.”

He raised a brow. “Near as you can guess?”

Okay, the man was definitely an attorney; Patience felt she was on trial with all the questions. Of course, that could also be her guilty conscience bothering her. “I was in the dining room polishing the silver. I heard Ana cry out, but by the time I got there, she was already on the floor.” She shuddered, remembering. The image of Ana crumpled at the foot of the stairs, moaning, wouldn’t leave her soon.

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