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
But she’d do well to remember that: rules were for others.
A doorman came out of the building to move the car almost instantly. Another unloaded her luggage from the trunk of the cab.
Joshua greeted both men by name, with a sincere warmth that surprised her. And then he was leading her through a lobby that reminded her of the one and only five-star hotel she had ever stayed at. The lobby had soaring ceilings, deep carpets over marble tile, distressed leather furniture.
For all that, why did it feel as if the most beautiful
thing in the room was that self-assured man carrying a baby, his strength easy, his manner unforced?
Few men, in Dannie’s experience, were really comfortable with children. Brent had claimed to like them, but she had noticed he had that condescending, overly enthusiastic way of being around them that children
She hoped it was a sign of healing that she had remembered this flaw in her perfect man!
It was a strange irony that, while Joshua Cole had not made any claims about liking children and in fact radiated unapologetic discomfort around them, he was carrying that baby on his hip as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing.
Joshua chose that moment to glance down at the bundle in his arms. She caught his look of unguarded tenderness and felt her throat close. Had she just caught a glimpse of something so real about him that it made her question every other judgment she had made?
What if the World’s Sexiest Bachelor was a lie? What if the sports car and clothes and office were just a role he’d assumed? What if he was really a man who had been born to be a daddy?
she told herself. What was wrong with her? She had just been terribly disappointed by one man! Why would she be reading such qualities into another that she barely knew?
Besides, there was no doubt exactly why men like Joshua Cole were so successful with women. They had charm down to a science.
It made it so easy to place them in the center of a fantasy, it was so easy to give them a starring role in a dream that she had to convince herself she did not believe in anymore.
Enough of fantasies, she told herself. She had spent the entire year Brent was away building a fantasy around his stupid cards and e-mails, reading into them growing love, when in fact his love had been diminishing. She was a woman pathetic enough to have spent her entire meager savings on a wedding dress on the basis of a vague promise.
Joshua went to a door off the bank of elevators and inserted a key.
The door glided open, and Dannie tried not to gawk at the unbelievable decadence of a private glass elevator. How was a girl supposed to give up on fantasy in a world where fantasy became reality?
The glass-encased elevator eased silently upward, and even Susie forgot to be mad at her uncle and squealed with delight as they glided smoothly higher and higher, the view becoming more panoramic by the second.
The problem with elevators, especially for a woman trying desperately to regain control of suddenly undisciplined thoughts, of her
was that everything was too close in them. She could smell the tantalizing aroma of Joshua, expensive cologne, mixed with soap. His shoulder, enormously broad under the exquisite tailoring of his suit jacket, brushed hers as he turned to let the baby see the view, and she felt a shiver of animal awareness so strong that it shook her to the core.
The reality of being in this elevator with a
man made her aware that for a year Brent had not been real at all, but a faraway dream that she could make into anything she wanted him to be.
Had she ever been this aware of Brent? So aware that his scent, the merest brush of his shoulder, could make her dizzy?
She forced her attention to the view, all too aware it had
nothing to do with the rapid beating of her heart. She could see the deep navy blue of an ocean bay. It was dotted with sailboats. Wet-suited sailboarders danced with the white capped waves. Outside of the bay a cruise ship slid by.
All she could think was that she had made a terrible mistake insisting on coming here with him. She touched her locket.
powers to protect seemed measly and inadequate.
To be so
of another human being, even in light of her recent romantic catastrophe, was terrible. To add to how terrible it was, she knew he would not be that aware of her. Since the breakup call, she had stripped herself of makeup, put away her wardrobe of decent clothes, determined to be invisible, to find the comfort of anonymity in her role as the nanny.
The elevator stopped, the doors slid open, and Dannie turned away from the view to enter directly into an apartment. To her left, floor-to-ceiling glass doors that spanned the entire length of the apartment were open to a terraced deck. Exotic flowering plants surrounded dark rattan furniture, the deep cushions upholstered in shades of lime and white. White curtains, so transparent they could only be silk, waved gracefully in the slightly salt-scented breeze.
Inside were long, sleek ultramodern white leather sofas, casually draped with sheepskins. They formed a conversation area around a fireplace framed in stainless steel, the hearth beaded in copper-colored glass tile. The themes of leather, glass and steel repeated themselves, the eye moving naturally from the conversation area to a bar that separated the living area from a kitchen.
The kitchen was magazine-layout perfect, black cabinets and granite countertops, more stainless steel,
more copper-colored glass tiles. A wine cooler, state-of-the-art appliances, everything subtle and sexy.
“Don’t tell me you cook,” she said, the statement coming out more pleading than she wanted.
He laughed. “Does opening wine count?”
Oh, it counted, right up there with the car and the Jacuzzi, as a big strike against him.
Thankfully, it really confirmed what she already knew. She was way out of her league, but vulnerable, too. And the apartment gave her the perfect excuse.
Was he watching her to see her reaction?
“Obviously,” she said tightly, “we can’t stay here. I’m sorry. I should never have insisted. If you can book us a flight, I need to take the children home.”
But the very thought made her want to cry. She told herself it wasn’t because his apartment was like something out of a dream, that it called to the part of her that wanted, dearly, to be pampered, that wanted, despite her every effort, to embrace fantasy instead of reject it.
No. She was tired. The children were tired. She couldn’t put them all back on a plane today. Maybe tomorrow.
“A motel for tonight,” she said wearily. “Tomorrow we can go home.”
Everything suddenly seemed wrong. Her whole damned life. She had never wanted anything like the elegance of this apartment, but only because it was beyond the humble dreams she had nurtured for Brent’s and her future.
So why did it feel so terrible, a yawning emptiness that could never be filled, that she realized she could never have this? Or a man like him? She hadn’t even been able to hold the interest of Brent, pudgy, owlish,
Joshua Cole had the baby stuffed under his arm like a football, and was looking at her with what could very easily be mistaken for genuine concern by the hopelessly naive. At least she could thank Brent for that. She wasn’t. Hopelessly naive. Anymore.
“Obviously, I can’t stay here with the children. They could wreck a place like this in about twenty minutes.” The fantasy was about being pampered, enjoying these lush surroundings; the reality was the children wrecking the place and her being frazzled, trying to keep everything in order.
Reality. Fantasy. As long as she could keep the two straight, she should be able to survive this awkward situation.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said, but uncertainly.
“Dic-u-lous,” Susie agreed, her eyes lighting on a pure crystal sculpture of a dolphin in the center of the coffee table.
Dannie took a tighter hold on Susie’s hand as the child tried to squirm free. She could already imagine little jam-covered fingerprints on the drapes, crayon marks on the sofas, wine being pulled out of the cooler.
“No,” she said. “It’s obvious you aren’t set up for children. I’d have a nervous breakdown trying to guard all your possessions.”
“They’re just possessions,” he said softly.
Of course he didn’t mean that. She’d already seen what he drove. She’d seen him eyeing that bowl in his office with grave concern every time Susie had even glanced in its direction. It was time to call him on it.
“You’re less attached to all this than the bowl in your office?” She congratulated herself on just the right tone of disbelief.
“I can move anything that is that breakable.”
“Start with the wine,” she said, just to give him an idea how big a job it was.
“The cooler locks. I’ll do it now.” As he moved across the room, he said over his shoulder, “I’ll send for some toys as a distraction.”
She had to pull herself together. She had to make the best decision for the children. The thought of moving them again, of cooping them up in a hotel room for the night suddenly seemed nearly unbearable.
They would stay here the night. One night. Rested, she would make good decisions tomorrow. Rested, she would be less susceptible to the temptations of his beautiful world. And his drop-dead-gorgeous eyes. And the brilliant wattage of his smile.
Which was directed at her right now. “What kind of toys should I get?” he asked her. He came over and gave her the key to the wine cooler, folded her hand around it.
She desperately wished he had not done that. His touch, warm and strong, filled with confidence, made her more confused about reality and fantasy. How could a simple touch make her feel as if she’d received an electric jolt from fingertip to elbow?
She’d given him an out, but he wasn’t taking it. She could see he was the kind of man who made up his mind and then was not swayed.
There was no point in seeing that as admirable. It was mule-stubbornness, nothing more.
“What toys?” he asked her again. He was smiling wickedly, as if he knew the touch of his hand had affected her.
Of course he knew! He radiated the conceited confidence of a man who had played this game with many women. Played. That’s why they called them playboys. It was all just a game to him.
“Princess Tasonja!” Susie crowed her toy suggestion. “And the camping play set. I have to have the tent and the backpack. And the dog, Royal Robert.” Seeing her uncle look amenable, she added a piece she coveted from a totally different play set. “And the royal wedding carriage. Don’t get Jake anything. He’s a baby.”
He took his cell phone out of his pocket and tried to dial with his thumb while still holding the baby. Apparently, he was going to have someone round up all the toys his niece had demanded.
“I wouldn’t bother with Princess Tasonja, if I were you,” Dannie managed, in a clipped undertone as Susie slipped free of her hand and skipped over to the sofa where she buried her face in a copper-colored silk pillow. Dannie was pretty sure the remnants of lunch were on that face.
Why bother telling him that Susie’s attention would be held by the Princess Tasonja doll and her entire entourage for about thirty seconds? Why not let him find out on his own that attempts to buy children’s affection usually ended miserably? Susie would become a monster of demands once the first one was met.
That was a lesson he probably needed to learn about the car, too. Any woman who would be impressed with such a childish display of wealth was probably not worth knowing.
Her own awed reaction to this apartment probably spoke volumes about her own lack of character!
“I suspect you think it’s going to keep her occupied—Susie do not touch the dolphin. But it won’t. Unless you are interested in playing princess doll dress up with her, the appeal will be strictly limited.”
He clicked the cell phone shut. “What do I do with her if I don’t buy her toys?” he asked.
“You are a sad man,” she blurted out, and then blushed at her own audacity.
“I don’t do kids well. That doesn’t make me
.” He regarded her thoughtfully and for way too long.
“You don’t just work for my sister,” he guessed. “You hang out with her, sharing ideas. Scary. I’m surprised she doesn’t have you married off.” He looked suddenly suspicious. “Unless that’s why you’re here.”
“My sister has been on this ‘decent girl’ kick for a while. She better not be matchmaking.”
“Me?” Dannie squeaked. “You?” But suddenly she had a rather sickening memory of Melanie looking at her so sadly as she’d dealt with her news about Brent, as if everyone had expected it
Joshua’s look grew very dark. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Not at the moment,” she said coolly, as if she’d had dozens of them, when she’d had only one serious relationship, and the greatest part of that had been by long distance. “But you needn’t worry, Mr. Cole. Your sister would know me well enough to know that you are not my type!”
He had the nerve to look offended, as if he just naturally assumed he was every woman’s type, the title of World’s Sexiest Bachelor obviously having gone straight to his handsome head. “Really? And what is your type?”
She could feel heat staining her cheeks to a color she just knew would be the most unflattering shade of red ever. “Not you!”
“That isn’t really an answer.”
“Studious, serious about life, not necessarily a sharp
dresser, certainly not materialistic.” She was speaking too fast, and in her panic describing a man she knew was less than ideal to a T.
“Priests aren’t generally available,” he said dryly.
“I meant someone like a college professor.” Which was what Brent had been. Rumpled. Academic. Faintly preoccupied all the time. Which she had thought was adorable!