Authors: Cara Colter
Tags: #Family, #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Love stories, #Historical, #Adult, #Business, #Businessmen, #Biography & Autobiography, #Nannies
Her tone said it all: superficial, playboy, hedonist. Even before he’d missed her at the airport, he’d been tried and found guilty.
Joshua Cole had, unfortunately, been discovered by a world hungry for celebrity, and the fascination with
his lifestyle was escalating alarmingly. It meant he was often prejudged, but so far he’d remained confident of his ability to overcome misperceptions.
Though he could already tell that Miss Pringy, of all people, looked as if she was going to be immune to his considerable charisma. He found himself feeling defensive again.
“I’m a businessman,” he said shortly, “not a celebrity.”
In fact, Joshua Cole disliked almost everything about his newly arising status, but the more he rejected media attention, the more the media hounded him. That article in
People to Watch
had been unauthorized and totally embarrassing.
World’s Sexiest Bachelor was a ridiculous title. It perturbed him that the magazine had gotten so many pictures of him, when he felt he’d become quite deft at protecting his privacy.
Where had all those pictures of him with his shirt off come from? Or relaxing, for that matter? Both were rare events.
To look at those pictures, anyone would think he was younger than his thirty years, and also that he spent his days half naked in sand and sunshine, the wind, waves and sun streaking his dark hair to golden brown. The article had waxed poetic about his “buff” build and sea-green eyes. It was enough to make a grown man sick.
Joshua was learning being in the spotlight had a good side: free publicity for Sun for one. For another, the label
that was frequently attached to him meant he was rarely bothered by women who had apple-pie, picket-fence kind of dreams. No, his constantly shifting lineup of companions were happy with
lifestyle-of-the-rich-and-famous outings and expensive trinkets; in other words, no
investment on his part.
The downside was that people like the mom-and-pop owners of Moose Lake Lodge weren’t comfortable with his notoriety coming to their neck of the woods.
And sometimes, usually when he least expected it, he would be struck with a sensation of loneliness, as if no one truly knew him, though usually a phone call to his sister fixed that pretty quickly!
Maybe it was because the nanny represented his sister’s household that he disliked being prejudged by her, that he felt strangely driven to try to make a good impression.
Just underneath that odd desire was an even odder one to know if she was evaluating him as the World’s Sexiest Bachelor. If she was, she approved of the title even less than he did. In fact, she looked as if she might want to see the criteria that had won him the title!
Was it possible she didn’t find him attractive? That she didn’t agree with the magazine’s assessment of his status? For a crazy moment he actually cared! He found himself feeling defensive again, saying in his head,
Miss Pringy wouldn’t know sexy if it stepped on her.
Or walked up to her and kissed her.
Which, unfortunately, made him look at her lips. They were pursed in a stern line, which he should have found off-putting. Not challenging! But the tightness around her lips only accentuated how full they were, puffy,
She reached up and touched the locket again, as if it was an amulet and he was a werewolf, as if she was totally aware of his inappropriate assessment of the kissability of her lips and needed to protect herself.
“I’m Danielle Springer, Dannie,” the woman announced formally, the woman least likely to have her
lips evaluated as kissable. She was still unfazed by the shrill cries of the baby. Again, he couldn’t help but notice her voice was husky, as sensuous as a touch. Under different circumstances—very different circumstances—he was pretty sure he would have found it sexy.
At least as sexy as her damned disapproving lips.
“I was told you’d meet us at the plane.”
“There seems to have been a mix-up,” he said for the second time. “Not uncommon when my sister is involved.”
“It’s not easy to get children ready for a trip!” She was instantly defensive of her employer, which, under different circumstances, he would have found more admirable.
“That’s why you’re there to help, isn’t it?” he asked mildly.
Her chin lifted and her eyes snapped. “Somehow I am unsurprised that you would think it was just about packing a bag and catching a flight.”
She was obviously a woman of spirit, which he found intriguing, so he goaded her a bit. “Isn’t it?”
“There’s more to raising a child than attending to their physical needs,” she said sharply. “And your sister knows that.”
“Saint Melanie,” he said dryly.
“Meaning?” she asked regally.
“I am constantly on the receiving end of lectures from my dear sister about the state of my emotional bankruptcy,” he said pleasantly. “But despite my notoriously cavalier attitudes, I really did think you were arriving tomorrow. I’m sorry. I especially wouldn’t want to hurt Susie.”
Susie shot him a suspicious look, popped her thumb in her mouth and sucked. Hard.
Dannie juggled the baby from one arm to the other and gently removed Susie’s thumb. He could suddenly see that despite the nanny’s outward composure, the baby was heavy and Dannie was tired.
Was there slight forgiveness in her eyes, did the stern line around her mouth relax ever so slightly? He studied her and decided he was being optimistic.
He could read what was going to happen before it did, and he shot up from behind his desk, hoping Dannie would get the message and change course. Instead she moved behind the desk with easy confidence, right into his space, and held out the baby.
“Could you? Just for a moment? I think he’s in need of a change. I’ll just see if I can find his things in my bag.”
For a moment, Joshua Cole, self-made billionaire, was completely frozen. He was stunned by the predicament he was in. Before he could brace himself or prepare himself properly in any way, he was holding a squirming, puttylike chunk of humanity.
Joshua shut his eyes against the warmth that crept through him as his eight-month-old nephew, Jake, settled into his arms.
A memory he thought he’d divorced himself from a long, long time ago returned with such force his throat closed.
“Don’t worry. It’s not what you think,” Dannie said. Joshua opened his eyes and saw her looking at him quizzically. “He’s just wet. Not, um, you know.”
Joshua became aware of a large warm spot soaking through his silk tie and onto his pristine designer shirt. He was happy to let her think his reaction to holding the baby was caused by an incorrect assumption about what Jake was depositing on his shirt.
The baby, as stunned by finding himself in his uncle’s arms as his uncle himself, was shocked into sudden blessed silence and regarded him with huge sapphire eyes.
The Buddha-like expression of contentment lasted for a blink. And then the baby frowned. Turned red. Strained. Made a terrifying grunting sound.
“What’s wrong with him?” Joshua asked, appalled.
“I’m afraid now it is, um, you know.”
If he didn’t know, the sudden explosion of odor let the secret out.
“Amber,” he called. The man who reacted to stress with aplomb, at least until this moment, said, “Amber, call 911.”
Dannie Springer’s delectable lips twitched. A twinkle lit the depths of those astonishing eyes. She struggled, lost, started to laugh. And if he hadn’t needed 911 before, he did now.
For a time-suspended moment, looking into those amazing blue depths, listening to the brook-clear sound of her laughter, it was as if disaster was not unfolding around him. It was as if his office, last sanctuary of the single male, had not been invaded by the enemy that represented domestic bliss. He might have laughed himself, if he wasn’t so close to gagging.
“Amber,” he said, trying to regain his legendary control in this situation that seemed to be unraveling dismally, “forget 911.”
Amber hovered in the doorway. “What would you like me to do?”
“The children haven’t eaten,” Miss Pringy said, as if she was in charge. “Do you think you could find us some lunch?”
How could anyone think of lunch at a time like this?
Or put Amber in charge of it? Even though Amber disappeared, Josh was fairly certain food was a question lost on her. As far as Joshua could see, his secretary survived on celery sticks.
Did babies eat celery sticks?
For a moment he felt amazed at how a few seconds could change a man’s whole world. If somebody had told him when he walked into his office, he would be asking himself questions about babies and celery sticks before the morning was out, he would not have believed it.
He would particularly not have believed he would be contemplating celery sticks with that odor now permeating every luxurious corner of his office.
But he, of all people, should know. A few seconds could change everything, forever. A baby, wrapped in a blue hospital blanket, his face tiny and wrinkled, his brow furrowed, his tiny, perfect hand—
Stop! Joshua ordered himself.
And yet even as he resented memories of a long-ago hurt being triggered so easily by the babe nestled in his arms now, he was also aware of something else.
He felt surprised by life, for the first time in a very, very long time. He slid his visitor a glance and was painfully aware of how lushly she was curved, as if
ate more than celery sticks. In fact, he could picture her digging into spaghetti, eating with robust and unapologetic appetite. The picture was startlingly sensual.
“I’ll just change the baby while we wait for lunch.”
“In here?” he sputtered.
“Unless you have a designated area in the building?” she said, raising an eyebrow at him.
Joshua could clearly see she was the kind of woman you did not want to surrender control to. In no time flat,
she would have the Lalique bowl moved and the change station set up where the bowl had been.
It was time to take control, not to be weakened by his memories but strengthened by them. It was time to put things back on track. The nanny and the children had arrived early. The thought of how his sister would have delighted in his current predicament firmed his resolve to get things to exactly where he had planned them, quickly.
“The washroom is down the hall,” Joshua said, collecting himself as best he could with the putty baby trying to insert its pudgy fingers in his nose. “If you’d care to take the baby there, Miss Pringy—”
“Springer—” she reminded him. “Perhaps while I take care of this, you could do something about, er, that?”
A hand fluttered toward the Lalique. He knew it! She was eyeing the table for its diaper changing potential!
“It’s art,” he said stubbornly.
“Well, it’s art the children aren’t old enough for.”
Precisely one of his many reservations about children. Everything had to be rearranged around them. Naturally, he needed to set her straight. It was his office, his business, his life. No one, but no one, told him how to run it. She and the children were departing as soon as he could arrange the limo and reschedule their reservations by a day.
But when she took the evilly aromatic baby back, after having fished a diaper out of a huge carpetbag she was traveling with, he was so grateful he decided not to set her straight about who the boss was. After she looked after the baby change, there would be plenty of time for that.
Dannie left the room, Susie on her heels. In a gesture
he was not going to consider surrender, Joshua went and retrieved his suit jacket from where it hung on the back of his chair, and gently and protectively draped it over the bowl.
“Thank you,” the nanny said primly, noticing as soon as she came back in the room. A cloud of baby-fresh scent entered with her, and Jake was now gurgling joyously.
“Naked is not nice,” Susie informed him.
“Well, that depends on—” A look from the nanny made him take a deep breath and change tack. “As soon as we’ve had some lunch, I’ll see to changing the arrangements I’ve made for you. You’ll love Whistler.”
“Whistler?” Miss Pringy said. “Melanie never said anything about Whistler. She said we were staying with you.”
“I’m not staying with him,” Susie huffed. “He hates us. I can tell.”
He wondered if he should show her all those little x and o notes, placed carefully in the top drawer of his desk. No, the nanny might see it as a vulnerability. And somehow, as intriguing—and exasperating—as he found her, he had no intention of appearing vulnerable in front of her.
“Don’t worry,” Joshua told Susie, firmly, “No one is staying with me, because I don’t want—”
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Miss Springer told him in a tight undertone. “Don’t you dare.”
Well, as if his life was not surprising enough today! He regarded her thoughtfully, tried to remember when the last time anyone had told him what to do was, and came up blank.
And that tone. No one ever dared use that tone on him. Probably not since grade school, anyway.
“Amber,” he called.
She appeared at the doorway, looking mutinous, as if one more demand would finish her. “Lunch is on the way up.”
“Take the children for a moment. Miss Pringy and I have a few things to say privately.”
Amber stared at him astounded. “Take them where?”
“Just your office will do.”
Her lips moved soundlessly, like a fish floundering, but then wordlessly she came in and took the baby, holding him out carefully at arm’s length.
“You go, too,” Miss Pringy said gently to Susie.
It was a mark of her influence on those children, that with one warning look shot at him, Susie traipsed out of the room behind Amber, shutting the door with unnecessary noisiness behind her.
“You weren’t going to say you didn’t want them in front of them, were you?” Miss Pringy asked, before the door was barely shut.