Authors: Cathy Williams
And so here she was. Barely in New York for five seconds and fixed up with a job for just the sort of pinstripe-suited money-man that she had always hated.
The penthouse apartment had its own private lift, and she was discharged into a massive carpeted landing. Disorientated, she wondered whether she was actually
the apartment. And, if so, where was the dreaded Matt Strickland?
‘Miss Kelly, I take it?’
The sound of his voice shocked her into spinning round, red-faced and feeling as guilty as if he had caught her stealing the family silver.
For a few timeless seconds Tess stared. Every cosy image she had had of Matt Strickland was shattered in an instant. This was six foot two inches of hard-packed alpha male. Suffocatingly masculine.
is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband, Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!
sensual mouth compressed, Matt stared down at the makeshift CV sitting in front of him. It was difficult to know where to begin. The colourful list of jobs complemented by the even more impressive lack of duration at each one of them told their own story. As did the brief, uninspiring academic profile. In the normal course of events he would have tossed this application into the bin without even bothering to read the sketchy handwritten personal profile at the end. Unfortunately, this was
the normal course of events.
He finally looked across his highly polished mahogany desk at the girl perched nervously on the chair facing him.
‘Eight jobs.’ He pushed himself away from the desk and allowed the lengthening silence to fill in the blanks of what he wanted to say.
Tess Kelly had come to him via a reference from her sister, and, in no position to be choosy, here he now was, interviewing for a nanny for his daughter. From what he could see, not only was Tess Kelly resoundingly lacking in any relevant experience, she was also flighty and academically challenged.
Huge green eyes looked back at him and he followed
her nervous gesture as she chewed her bottom lip. He might have his hands tied, but that didn’t mean that he was going to make this process easy for her.
‘I know it sounds like a lot…’
‘You’re twenty-three years old and you’ve held down eight jobs. I think it’s fair to say that it is a lot.’
Tess looked away from the cool dark eyes resting on her. Under his unflinching, assessing gaze, she was finding it impossible to keep still. Why on earth was she here? She had arrived in New York three weeks previously to stay with her sister, with the proviso that she take some time out to consider her options and get her act together. At least those had been the parting words of her parents as they had waved her off at the airport before she’d disappeared across the Atlantic.
‘You’re twenty-three years old, Tess,’ her mother had said firmly, offering her a plate of homemade biscuits to soften the blow, ‘and you still don’t seem to have any idea what you want to do with your life. Your dad and I would just like to see you settle down. Find something that you enjoy doing—something you might want to stick with for longer than five minutes…Claire knows all the ins and outs of the business world. She’ll be able to give you some helpful advice. It would do you good to spend your summer somewhere else…’
No one had mentioned that part of the process would involve getting a job as a nanny. She had never worked with any child in her life before. She couldn’t remember having ever expressed the slightest curiosity about working with one. And yet here she was, sitting in front of a man who chilled her to the bone. The very second she had spun round at the sound of his velvety voice,
to see him lounging against the doorframe, inspecting her, she had felt a shiver of apprehension skim down her spine. She had prepared herself for someone portly and middle-aged. He was, after all, her sister’s boss. He owned the company, he ran it, and according to Claire he took no prisoners. How could he do all that and still be in his early thirties? But he was—and, contrary to all expectations, not only was he young, he also had killer looks. Drop-dead, truly sensational killer looks.
But his emotional detachment was terrifying, and his perfect bone structure proclaimed a face that never cracked a smile. Tess wondered how her sister could work for him without having a nervous breakdown.
‘And your academic history…I’m finding it hard to tally your lack of qualifications with your sister’s achievements. Claire has a first class degree and is head of my corporate law department. You have…let’s count them…six mediocre GCSE grades and a certificate in Foundation Art…’
‘Yes, well, I’m not Claire, Mr Strickland.’ Two patches of colour appeared on her cheeks. ‘Claire and Mary both excelled at school.’
‘My other sister. She’s a doctor. They were both high-achievers. Not everyone is built along the same lines.’ Cheerful by nature, Tess was finding that she
this man. From his opening words to her—
‘You’re half an hour late and I don’t tolerate lateness.’
—to his sweeping assumption that she was a failure. He hadn’t said it in so many words, but it was there, lurking in the cold, disdainful expression behind those bitter chocolate eyes.
‘Okay. Let’s do away with the formalities and cut to the chase, shall we?’ Matt leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. ‘You’re here because I am not in a position of choice. I don’t know what, precisely, Claire has told you, but let me clarify. My ex-wife died some months ago and since than I have had full custody of my ten-year-old daughter. In that period she has seen off almost as many nannies as you have seen off jobs. Consequently, the agency I deal with have effectively closed their doors to me. I have three housekeepers, but they are not suitable for the demands of the job. I could look further afield, but frankly this is a three-month posting—and finding a career nanny who is willing to offer herself for such a short period of time will not be easy. Time, Miss Kelly, is of the essence as far as I am concerned. I work huge hours. I have neither the time nor the ability to cover. Your name cropped up. Your sister sings your praises when it comes to your sociability. Ergo, you are here now—despite your glaring shortcomings.’
Not for the first time, Matt considered the train of events that had led to where he was now.
Divorced for eight years, he had been an infrequent spectator to his daughter’s life. Catrina, his ex-wife, had removed her to Connecticut a year after their divorce had become final, and had played so many games when it came to making arrangements for him to visit that the years had elapsed without him ever really feeling connected to Samantha. And then, six months ago, Catrina had died in a car accident, and the daughter he had never really known had landed on his doorstep—resentful, grieving, and silently, wilfully hostile.
Nannies, a necessity for him, had come and gone, and he now found himself between a rock and a hard place.
‘I’m sorry. I’m
sorry. Claire didn’t mention details…Your poor, poor daughter…’ Tears of sympathy were gathering in the corners of Tess’s eyes and she blinked them away. ‘I’m not surprised she’s finding it difficult to settle down.’
Taken aback by such an emotional response, Matt reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out a box of tissues, which he handed to her.
‘So, whilst you’re not my idea of the ideal candidate…’ He carried on over the subsiding threat of her tears.
‘I guess you’re worried because I’ve had so many jobs over the years…’ Tess was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might be harsh and forbidding, but he was in a difficult position and no doubt justifiably anxious that he take on someone who wouldn’t let him down.
‘Correct. Samantha would not benefit from someone who decides to stick around for a few days and then walks out because she’s bored. Even though there have been a lot of nannies, they have all endeavoured to give it their best shot. Are you capable of that?’
‘Yes. Yes, I am.’ She looked at him. Despite the unforgiving nature of his expression, a little voice whispered, he really was very good-looking—beautiful, almost. Suddenly hot and bothered, she looked away, twisting the tissue between her fingers.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I may not be in a position to pick and choose, Miss
Kelly, but I would still like you to persuade me that I am not about to make a mistake with you. Your sister may well sing your praises, and I trust Claire, but…’ He shrugged and relaxed back. ‘Persuade me…’
‘I wouldn’t leave anyone in the lurch. I really wouldn’t, Mr Strickland.’ She leaned forward, her face flushed and sincere. ‘I know you think that I’m probably not very good at sticking to anything. Well, actually,’ she confessed, ‘my family would all probably agree with you. But I’ve actually been indispensable in many of my past jobs. I’ve never let anyone
—not really. No, not at all, come to think of it. Even when I quit the receptionist’s job at Barney and Son, Gillian was there to take over. To be honest, I think they were all a little relieved when I decided to leave. I was forever transferring people to the wrong department.’
‘Let’s try and stick to the theme.’
‘Yes. Well, what I’m trying to say is that you can trust me with your daughter. I won’t let you down.’
‘Even though you have no experience in the field and might get bored with the company of a ten-year-old child?’
‘I don’t think kids are boring! Do you?’
Matt flushed darkly.
he bored in Samantha’s company? He had precious little experience in that area to provide a qualified answer. His relationship with his daughter was fraught at best. They conversed intermittently, and across a seemingly unbreachable chasm. She was sulky and uncommunicative, and he knew that he was not a feelings person.
Matt dismissed that brief moment of intense introspection.
‘So how would you plan on looking after her?’ He pushed the conversation forward and focused on her.
She had a fascinatingly transparent face. Right now, giving his question some thought, she was lost in a slight frown, her lips parted, her apple-green eyes distant. Tess Kelly wasn’t the sort of woman he had been expecting. Claire was tall, brisk, efficient, and permanently attired in a suit. The girl sitting opposite him was a living, breathing testimony to the power of misconception. She looked as though she had never been anywhere near a suit and her hair.
No fashionably tailored bob, but really,
long. Several times he had been tempted to angle himself so that he could see just how long for himself.
‘Well…I guess there are the usual sights. Museums, art galleries. And then there’s the cinema, the zoo…I love Central Park. We could go there. I’m sure she’ll be missing the familiarity of her home and all her friends, so I’ll make sure to keep her busy and occupied.’
‘And then there’s the matter of schoolwork.’
Tess blinked and looked at him in confusion. ‘What schoolwork?’ she asked, perplexed. ‘It’s the holidays.’
‘Samantha’s education was severely disrupted because of Catrina’s death, as you can imagine. More so when she came to New York. There seemed little point in registering her for a school here, which she wouldn’t be attending on a permanent basis, and the tutors I employed for her came and went as regularly as the nannies. Consequently there are gaps in her learning which will have to be addressed before she sits exams at the beginning of September for her new school.’
‘Okaayyy…and where do I fit in?’
Tess continued to look at him blankly and he clicked his tongue with impatience.
going to have to take charge there.’
‘Me?’ Tess squeaked in consternation. ‘I can’t become a tutor! You’ve seen my application form! You’ve
of my lack of qualifications!’
The thought of trying to teach anything to someone else horrified her. She wasn’t academic. She became nervous just thinking about textbooks. The youngest of three girls, she had grown up in the shadow of her clever sisters, and from an early age had dealt with the problem by simply opting out. No one could accuse her of being thick if she simply refused to compete, could they? And she had known that there was no way that she could ever have competed with either Claire or Mary. How on earth could he expect her to suddenly become a
‘I’m sorry to have wasted your time, Mr Strickland,’ she said, standing up abruptly. ‘If teaching is part of the job, then I’m going to have to turn down the position. I…I can’t. Claire and Mary are the brainy ones. I’m not. I’ve never been to university. I never even wanted to go. I did a foundation course in Art when I was sixteen, and that’s the extent of my qualifications. You need someone else.’
Matt looked at her narrowly and allowed her to ramble on. Then, very calmly, he told her to sit.
‘I’m getting the picture about your academic qualifications or lack of them. You hated school.’
school.’ Having not wanted the job to start with, Tess now realised that she did. His daughter’s
plight had touched her. The thought of her being so young, and dependent on a father who was obviously a workaholic, tugged at her heartstrings. For the first time she really wanted to get involved. ‘I’m just no good when it comes to textbooks.’
‘I have no time for people who wave a white flag and concede defeat before they’ve even given something a fair chance,’ Matt said bracingly. ‘I’m not asking you to teach to degree level. I’m asking you to tutor Samantha in some of the basics—maths, english, sciences. If you want to persuade me that you’re interested in taking on this job, then you’re going about it the wrong way.’
‘I’m just being honest! If…if you don’t want to employ any more tutors for your daughter, then why don’t
help her with her schoolwork?’ She faltered. ‘You run a business, so you must be qualified…or maybe you don’t need maths and English in what you do…? Some children don’t cope well with home-tutoring. Perhaps your daughter is one of those.’
‘Samantha could cope very well with home-tutoring,’ Matt said shortly, ‘if she was prepared to put effort into it. But she’s not. She might benefit more from teaching in a less structured manner. And, no, there is no way that I can help out. I barely have time to sleep. I leave this apartment at seven-thirty in the morning, which is an hour later than I used to before Samantha arrived, and I try and make it back by eight in the evening when I’m not away. Which is a push at the best of times.’
Tess was distracted sufficiently from her own agonising to shoot him a look of frank horror. ‘You work
from seven-thirty in the morning to eight at night? Every day?’
‘I cut myself some slack on the weekends.’ Matt shrugged. He could think of no one who would find anything out of the ordinary about those working hours. The high-fliers in his company—and there were a lot of them—routinely had punishing schedules and thought nothing of it. They were paid fabulous sums of money and quid pro quo, after all.