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 after seeing him in his own environment, and now in charge of this plane, she realized the mix-up at the airport probably had been Melanie’s. Joshua gave the impression of a man who took everything he did seriously and did everything he did well.
Still, to go from being prepared to dislike someone to feeling this kind of trust in less than twenty-four hours might not be a good thing. She might be falling under his legendary, lethal charm, just like everyone else.
Of course she was! Why else had she agreed to fly off into the unknown with a man who was, well, unknown?
She did touch her locket then, a reminder that even the known could become unknown, even the predictable could fail.
Before she really had time to prepare herself, the plane was rumbling along the airstrip and then it was lifting, leaving the bonds of gravity, taking flight.
Dannie was surprised, and pleasantly so, to discover she liked small airplanes better than big ones. She could watch her pilot’s face, she could feel his energy, he did not feel unknown at all. In fact, she had a sense of knowing him deeply as she watched his confident hands on the controls, as she studied his face.
He glanced at her, suddenly, and grinned.
For a second he was that boy she had seen in the photo on the beach, full of mischief and delight in life. For a second he was that football player in the other photo, confident, sure of his ability to tackle whatever the world threw at him.
Something had changed him since those photos were taken. She had not been aware he carried a burden until she saw it fall away as they soared into the infinite blue of the sky.
“You love this,” she guessed.
“It’s the best,” he said, and returned his attention to what he was doing. And she turned hers to the world he had opened up for her. A world of such freedom and beauty it could hardly be imagined. Joshua pointed out landmarks to her, explained some of the simpler things he was doing.
An hour or so later he circled a lake, the water dark denim blue, lovely cabins on spacious tree-filled lots encircling it. Wharves reached out on the water. Except for the fact it was too early in the year for people to be here, it looked like a poster for a perfect summer. Still, she was actually sorry when the flight was over.
A car waited for them at the end of the runway, and introductions were made. Sally and Michael Baker were an older couple, the lines of living outdoors deeply etched in both their faces. They were unpretentious, dressed casually in jeans and lumber jackets. Dannie liked them immediately.
And she liked it that Joshua did not introduce her as a nanny, but said instead that his sister had sent her along because she didn’t trust him completely with her children!
The Bakers had that forthright and friendly way about them that made children feel instantly comfortable. Jake went into Sally’s arms eagerly.
“I think he’s been waiting all his short life to have a grandmother,” Joshua said.
“He doesn’t have a grandmother?” Sally asked, appalled.
“The kids paternal grandparents are in Australia. My mom and dad were killed in an accident when I was growing up.”
Melanie had told Dannie her parents were gone, but never the circumstances. Dannie had assumed they were older, and that they had died of natural causes. Now she wondered if that was the burden he carried, and she also noted how quickly he had revealed that to the Bakers.
There was a great deal to know about this man. But to know it was to invite trouble. Because even knowing that he’d lost his parents when he was young caused a growing softness toward him.
“That must have been very hard,” Sally clucked, her brown eyes so genuinely full of concern.
“Probably harder on my sister than me,” he said. “She was older.”
Suddenly Dannie saw Melanie’s attitude toward her brother, as if he was a kid, instead of a very successful man, in a totally different light.
Michael packed their things in the back of an SUV, and they drove toward the lake. Soon they were on a beautiful road that wound around the water, trees on one side, the lake, sparkling with light, on the other.
Then they came into a clearing. A beautiful, ancient log lodge was facing the lake at one end of it, gorgeous lawns and flower beds sweeping down to the sandy shores. Scattered in on the hill behind it were tiny log cabins of about the same vintage.
“It’s beautiful,” Dannie breathed. More than beautiful. Somehow this place captured a feeling: summer laughter, campfires, water games, children playing tag in the twilight.
A children’s playground was on part of the huge
expanse of lawn before the beach, and Susie began squirming as soon as she saw it.
“Is that a tree fort?” she demanded. “I want to play!”
Sally laughed. “Of course you want to play. You’ve been cooped up in a plane. Why don’t I watch the kids at the park, while Michael helps you two get settled?”
Dannie expected some kind of protest from Susie, but there was none. As soon as the car door opened, she bolted for the playground.
Michael and Joshua unloaded their bags, and they followed Michael up a lovely wooden boardwalk that started behind the main lodge, wound through whispering aspens, spruce and fur. The smell alone, sweet, pure, tangy, nearly took Dannie’s breath away. The boardwalk came to a series of stone stairs set in the side of the hill, and at the top of that was the first of about a dozen cabins that looked through the trees to the glittering surface of the lake.
The cabin had a name burned on a wooden plaque that hung above the stairs to the porch.
There were a pair of rocking chairs on the covered, screened-in front porch. The logs and flooring were gray with age, the chinking and the trim around the paned window was painted white. A window box was sadly empty. Dannie could imagine bright red geraniums blooming there. A worn carpet in front of a screen door said Welcome.
Michael opened the door, which squeaked outrageously and somehow only added to the rustic charm. He set their bags inside.
It occurred to her she and Joshua were staying together, under the same roof. Why was it different from how staying under the same roof had been last night?
The cabin was smaller, for one thing, everything about it more intimate than the posh interior of Joshua’s apartment. This was a space that was real. The decades of laughter, of family, soaked right into the cozy atmosphere.
“This is our biggest cabin,” Michael said. “There’s two bedrooms down and the loft up. Sometimes the kids sleep on the porch on hot nights, though it’s not quite warm enough for that, yet.”
“How wonderful there’s a place left in the world where it’s safe enough for the kids to sleep out on an unlocked porch,” Dannie said.
Michael nodded. “My daughter and her kids usually take it for the whole summer, but—” He stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. “Dinner is at the main lodge. See you there around six. There’s always snacks available in the kitchen if you need something before then.”
And then he closed the door and left them.
The cabin was more than quaint, it was as if it was a painting entitled
. There were colorful Finnish rag rugs over plank flooring. An old couch, with large faded cabbage roses on the upholstery, dominated the living room decor. Inside, where the logs had not been exposed to the weather, they were golden, glowing with age and warmth. A river rock fireplace, the face blackened from use, had two rocking chairs painted bright sunshine yellow, in front of it.
Maybe it was that feeling of home that made her venture into very personal territory. Standing in this place, with him, made her feel connected to him, as if all the warmth and love of the families who had gathered in this place had infused it with a spirit of caring.
“I can’t believe I’ve worked for Melanie for months
and didn’t know about your parents. I knew they had passed, but I didn’t know the circumstances.”
“It was a car accident. She doesn’t talk about it.”
He shrugged. “We aren’t really talkers in our family.”
“Doers,” she guessed.
“You got it.” Without apology, almost with warning. No sympathy allowed. Don’t go there. To prove the point, he began exploring the cabin, and she could tell his assessment of the place was somewhat clinical, as if he was deliberately closing himself off to the whispers of its charm.
He was studying the window casings, which were showing slight signs of rot, scowling at the floors that looked decidedly splintery. He went up the stairs to the loft.
“I’ll take this room,” he called.
She knew she shouldn’t go up there, but she did. She went and stood behind him. The loft room was massive. The stone chimney from downstairs continued up the far wall, and there was another fireplace. A huge four-poster bed, antique, with a hand-crafted quilt took up the greater part of the space.
He was looking under the bed.
“Boogeymen?” she asked.
He hit his head pulling out from under the bed, surprised that she was up here. “Mice.”
The shabby romance of the place was obviously lost on him. “And?”
“Mouse free. Or cleaned recently.”
She was afraid of mice. He was afraid of caring. Maybe it was time for at least one of them to confront their fears.
“Joshua, I’m sorry about your parents. That must
have been incredibly hard on you.” She said it even though he had let her know it was off-limits.
He went over and opened a closet door, peered in. She had a feeling he was already making architectural drawings, plans, notes.
“Thanks,” he said. “It was a long time ago.”
“What are your plans for this place?” she said, trying to respect his obvious desire not to go there. “If you acquire it?”
“I want to turn it into a Sun resort. So that means completely revamping the interiors of these cabins, if we kept them at all. Think posh hunting lodge, deep, distressed leather furniture, a bar, good art, bearskin rugs.”
She actually felt a sense of loss when he said that.
“For activities,” he continued, “overnight camping trips, rock climbing, hiking, a row of jet skis tied to a new wharf.”
She winced at that.
“Five-star dining in the main lodge, a lounge, some of the cabins with their own hot tubs.”
“Adult only?” She felt her heart sinking. How could he be so indifferent to what this place was meant to be?
“That’s what we do.”
“What a shame. This place is crying for families. It feels so empty without them.”
“Well, that’s not what Sun does.”
“Is it because of your own family?” she asked softly, having to say it, even if it did cross the boundaries in his eyes. “Is that why you cater to people who don’t have families around them? Because it’s too painful for you to go there?”
He stopped, came out of the closet, looked at her with deep irritation. “I don’t need to be psychoanalyzed. You sound like my sister.”
She had hit a nerve. She saw that. And she saw that he was right. Staying at his place, seeing him with the children, riding in his airplane, being alone in this cabin with him had all created a false sense of intimacy.
She was the nanny, the employee. She had no right to probe into his personal life. She had no right to think of him on a personal level.
But she already was! How did you backpedal from that?
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cole,” she said stiffly.
The remote look left his face immediately. He crossed the room to her, she was aware how much taller he was when he looked down at her.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“Yes, I did. I can see it in your face.”
“I’m sure you’re imagining things.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Now you’re being too personal, Mr. Cole.”
He stared at her. “Are we having a fight?”
“I think so.” Though after what she’d grown up with, this wouldn’t even qualify as a squabble.
He started to laugh, and then surprisingly so did she, and the sudden tension between them dissipated, only to be replaced with a different kind of tension. Hot and aware. She could feel his breath on her cheek.
“Please don’t call me Mr. Cole again.”
“All right, Joshua.”
“Just for the record, I didn’t start running adult only resorts because of my parents.” For a moment there was a pain so great in his eyes she thought they would both drown in it.
It seemed like the most reasonable thing in the world to reach out and touch his cheek, to cup his jawline in
her palm and to rest her fingertips along the hard plain of his cheekbones.
His cheek was beginning to be ever so slightly whisker roughened. His skin felt unexpectedly sensual, cool and taut, beneath the palm of her hand.
He leaned toward her. For a stunning moment she thought he was going to tell her something. Something important. Maybe even the most important thing about him.
And then, the veil came down in his eyes, and something dangerous stirred in that jade surface. He was going to kiss her. She knew she should pull away, but she was helpless to do so. And then he reeled back as if he had received an electric shock, looked embarrassed, turned back to his inspection of the cabin.
She was way too aware of that big bed in this room, of the fireplace, of the pure and rugged romance of it.
“Uncle! Dannie!” Susie burst through the door downstairs. “Isn’t this place the best? The best ever? You have to come see the tree fort. Sally said maybe I could sleep in it. Do you want to sleep in it with me?”
Now, that would be so much better than sleeping in here, with him. Even though she would be in a different room, this loft space was so open to the rest of the cabin below it. She would be able to imagine him here even as she slept in another room. She might even be pulled here, in the darkest night, when the heart spoke instead of the head.
Her eyes went once more to the bed. She was aware that Joshua had stopped and was watching her.
“Where are you?” Susie called.
“Up here. But coming down.” Away from temptation.
Dannie ran down the steps, relieved by the distraction of the children.